Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eighteenth Beginning: Houseboat on the Styx

The river is grey and thick.  The sky is also grey.  If the eyes of the fisherman ever sought the horizon, the odds of his eyes distinguishing a distant difference between river and shy would be slim.  Perhaps it is good that he does not look.

He knows that the rim of a boat is spelled gunwale and pronounced gunnel.  He knows that there is a black beetle, with a butt fat, like a stinkbug, pushing something round and grey around it.  The beetle walks backward, tickling the irregular, rocking mass ahead of it (behind it?) with black needle feet.  Somehow, it is always pushing its burden uphill.  Whether this is a trick of the tide or a trick of the geometry of the boat or some deeper mystery is unknown.  The fisherman ignores it.  That's the safest way.

Once, for about a year, or for what felt like about a year, the fisherman couldn't look at the beetle without remembering a time, once, when he was alive, when he saw a beetle cross a road.  It was a narrow, twisting rural pavement.  It was not familiar to him, and he was therefore driving particularly slow.  He had his window down and his arm resting out of it.

There were no cars in sight beside his own, so he assumed that the beetle made it safely across.  But he had thought about it, the rest of his life - not continually, but at odd moments.  He could remember remembering the beetle and feeling full of something unnamable, something related to the thought that the beetle probably could not see far enough ahead to see a car coming, could not carry the concept 'car' in a brain small enough to fit inside a chitinous cranium smaller than a pea, could not connect the concept 'road' to a sense of dread; perhaps could not produce dread at all, in any circumstance.  He could never fit words to what he felt when he thought of the beetle, but he had a sneaking suspicion that it was an understanding of his place in the universe.

Perspective is never a comfortable thing.  Now the fisherman ignores the beetle.  He also ignores the slope of the river and the thing he suspects about its geometry.  It's better that way.  Safer.  He remembers preferring safety, although he's forgotten a good deal else.  He remembers a good deal about fishing and the local fishing conditions.  Even as changeable as the river can be, he's been on it long enough to have a good idea of the bottom geometry, the flow patterns, and what is probably eating and being eaten in every reach. 
The trick of fishing is to find the place that something you want to eat is eating something else and to use the flow patterns to insinuate the right lure into the right place.  If nothing's eating, nothing's going to bite, no matter what's lurking there.  No death, no dinner. 

There is a bird hunched on the cabin roof, just over the doorway.  It's a black bird, most of the time, with ragged feathers that look as if they're blowing in the wind.  But that's just because several of them are broken and sticking out at odd angles.  The bird has never noticed the beetle, which is one indication that it wasn't born a bird but used to be human.  The other is that it can talk.  There are many things that can't talk that are as oblivious as humans to moving things in their near vicinity.  Clams, for instance.  A real bird would have taken a peck at the beetle.  A cat would have batted at it.  A dog would have sniffed it. 

The bird is miserable because it has no one to talk to but the fisherman.  Which effectively means it has no one to talk to.  It did it's best to talk, anyway, which is why several of its feathers are broken.  It is usually larger than a crow but smaller than a raven.  Sometimes the feathers on its legs are brown.  Sometimes there's a flick of white under its beak.  Obviously it was never an ornithologist. 

The bird does not remember why it ever believed that a person's soul would become a bird when he died.  It remembers watching a lot of television. 

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