No Easy Business – Duane Williams

Mornings on Lake Erie, with nothing but water all around us, I’d feel small in the world. During storms, when the lake was vicious, I prayed not to be swallowed by the giant waves, but I never let on to Dad. I wondered if Christopher Columbus was ever afraid, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, looking for India. Trap netting was like that, like finding a new world. It was no easy business.

Half-way out to where we’d drop the nets, Dad would finish his bottle and fall asleep, the sun burning up the horizon. That left Ernie and me, and Ernie wasn’t much use to no one, thanks to a forgotten war. That’s what Dad called it. Ernie liked to roll up his pants and show off his wooden legs. His real legs were missing from the knees down. Dad said Ernie would have been better off if he died in that war.

Ernie was an old man. Old and crippled. But he made do all right, he never complained a word. When the nets were in and there was nothing to do but wait for the catch, Ernie would take his break and light a cigar. He’d stand at the bow, staring into the lake and humming softly to himself. Every morning the same song. Ernie was missing Uncle George, Dad’s brother, who never came back from that war. Ernie and Uncle George were blood brothers, or so Ernie said. Dad, he laughed when I told him that, and begged the Lord’s almighty mercy.

Dad never had no buddies. Mom used to say he had a sliver in his heart, maybe that’s why. He could be mean, that’s for sure, and seemed to me Ernie got the worst of it. Out on the lake, Dad sometimes woke up and hollered at Ernie to get his sissy arse in gear, he wasn’t paying him for dreaming. But mostly Dad slept in his chair, one eye half-open on the world, giving him a powerful sort of look, like the spirit was lifting out of him. Ernie and me, we knew better than to wake Dad, even if a storm was coming or the catch was heavy. We’d let Dad sleep ‘til the nets were in and dusk made the water black.

All those years of fishing, the day came when Dad couldn’t go, the day he fell down the stairs at the Lakeshore Hotel. He never liked hospitals, especially not since Mom was taken by the cancer, but the doctor said Dad wasn’t going nowhere, no sir, he was staying in the hospital.

That morning, Ernie and me set out fishing without Dad. There’d been a storm the night before, but now the lake was like a giant mirror and fresh white clouds floated over its surface. Dad’s rocker sat empty and quiet on deck, not creaking the way it did when Dad was in it, rocking even in his sleep. Without that sound, I couldn’t hardly stand Ernie’s silence. I started singing Johnny Cash, Dad’s music, but that didn’t help. I finally had to ask. I just came out and asked Ernie why he was so damned serious all the time and didn’t hardly ever laugh or tell a dirty joke. Ernie just looked at me and smiled, his eyes deep and dark as empty wells.

“You ever been in love?” Ernie asked me.

I didn’t have no answer. I just stood there for the longest time, staring out at the glassy lake. Ernie, he limped over on his wooden legs and sat down in Dad’s chair. He lifted up his sweater to show me the ugly scar across his belly, pink and thick like a cornrow.

“I was, once,” Ernie said. “Here’s the scar to prove it.”

“From the war?”

“Before the war.” Ernie looked at me, pushing out his hairy belly to show off the scar, his eyes shiny. “When your uncle was still living.”

“Uncle George?”

“We was closer than brothers, me and Georgie. Shared our blood even. First when I got stabbed. Then when he got shot in Korea. Bet you didn’t know your Dad knifed me, did you, kid?”

I didn’t, but it wasn’t no shock either.

“Yep, your dear, ole Dad couldn’t stand that George and me were thicker than blood.” Ernie let out a laugh that was like a crash of thunder rippling across the lake.

“It looks sore,” I said.

“No, it ain’t sore no more. Touch it,” Ernie said. “Feels like leather after all these years.”

I looked again at the scar, then back at the distant shore. “Better get the nets in,” I said.

“Forget the nets,” Ernie said. He stayed put. Pretty soon, he was rocking in Dad’s chair, rocking crazy fast, his eyes pinched shut as the tug sputtered along. The chair creaked like it was in pain, the only sound out there on the lake, farther out than the gulls would fly.

_______________________

Duane Williams lives in Hamilton, Canada. His short fiction has appeared widely in literary anthologies, including Quickies, Queer View Mirror I & II, Blithe House, Boyfriends from Hell, Velvet Mafia, Love Under Foot, Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly, Friction 6, Between the Palms: A Collection of Gay Travel Erotica, Best Gay Erotica 2006 and Ultimate Gay Erotica 2007. He can be reached at duanewilliams@cogeco.ca.

Photo credit: “Fishing Boat” © David Ross, 2009. Used by kind permission of the photographer.

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