The Fish Aren’t Biting
The sun bore down on the rowboat and the water reflected the heat into the fishermen’s eyes. The old man squinted as he pushed his worn fedora back and slowly wiped his forehead with the back of his free hand.
“Dang, it’s gonna be another hot one t’day, Jed.”
Jed nodded as he dug another wiggling worm from the bean can at his feet. The rowboat rocked from side to side matching his movements. He stabbed the worm with the point of his fish hook and threw the baited line overboard as he glanced up at his partner. Amos hadn’t had a bite all morning. Hadn’t even checked his line to see if the bait was still there.
“Hadn’t you better check your bait, Mose?” Jed had called his boyhood friend Mose as long as they had known each other.
“Nah, it’s fine. I c’n allus tell when the worm’s gone.”
“’Cause ya don’t get any more bites?” Jed smiled.
Amos nodded without acknowledging his friend’s gentle jabs. “I c’n feel when the weight’s off th’ hook”.
Amos laid across the stern of the wooden rowboat, his back cushioned against the edge of the boat by the unused lifejacket, his legs dangled over the other side, his fishing pole rested at a diagonal across his lap. His bobber floated on the water’s surface undisturbed by Amos or the fish. Jed sat on the seat in the bow with his pole held expectantly in both hands while a stringer suspended from an oarlock restrained his catch of catfish.
Amos pulled his fedora low over his forehead to block out the sunshine and sucked on a soggy toothpick with a smacking sound as he scratched at a spot on his worn and patched overalls.
“The world’s gone to heck, Jed.” Jed nodded silently without taking his eyes off his bobber. Mose. The amateur philosopher “It’s gone to heck in a hand basket.” Amos smacked his lips again and stared across the water’s shimmering surface. “Young’uns don’t have no git up’n go any more. Why, in my day we used t’ work right along from daylight to dark but you don’t fin’ young’uns workin’ like that any more.”
Jed looked away from his bobber long enough to grimace at his partner. “I don’t recall you ever working from daylight to dark, Mose.”
Amos ignored his fishing buddy’s comment and continued his philosophizing. “People are too lazy, Jed. It don’t pay t’ be too lazy. Pass me thet can o’ worms, will ya, Jed?”
The can rested within an arm’s length of Amos, Jed noted, but he held his pole in one hand as he bent forward to push the can across the floor of the rowboat toward his reclining partner. Amos acknowledged the movement of the bait can with a slight nod but avoided picking it up.
“Ever’ day ya see folks puttin’ off doin’ what needs doin’,” Amos shifted the toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “Thet gran’son o’ mine. Now there’s a fine example o’ what I’m talkin’ about. Why, he won’t raise a hand to he’p out aroun’ th’ place. It’d take an act o’ God to get him out o’ th’ rockin’ chair long enough to feed thet ol’ hound dog o’ his’n.”
“How is that old hound, Mose? You ever git him to tree a ‘coon?”
Amos snorted, “Good for nuthin’ mutt! He’s lazy as th’ day is long. All he does is sleep th’ day away. Ain’t good for nuthin’ ‘cept to keep food from spoilin’, same as my gran’son.”
“How’s ol’ Blue holdin’ up, Mose?”
Amos snorted, “Thet ol’ mule ain’t so good, Jed.”
“Why, what happened to him,” Jed asked.
“Thet fool gran’son o’ mine had been feedin’ him right up ‘til yestiddy, but ol’ Blue just wadn’t eatin’ like he used to. So we had ol’ Doc Winer come out.”
“What’d Doc find wrong with him?”
“Thet fool quack said it looked like ol’ Blue died.” Amos’ jaw fell slack as he pulled the soiled remnant of a handkerchief from his bib pocket and dabbed at his eye.
“That’s a shame, Mose,” Jed said, shocked.
“Yep, Doc said hit looked like ol’ Blue fetched up dead ‘bout two months back.” Amos shook his head and shoved his handkerchief back in his pocket.
“I can see where he wasn’t eating like he used to then,” Jed muttered under his breath. “You ever git your roof fixed, Mose?” Hoping to change the subject while squelching a smile, Jed knew the roof was still in the same shape as always.
“Naw. Ever’ time I start to thaink about fixin’ it, hit commences to rain.”
“Wasn’t rainin’ yesterday, Mose. Nor the day before either,” Jed said as he removed a nice channel cat from his hook and threaded a fresh worm on.
Amos raised one hand to brush away a horsefly and took advantage of the opportunity to push his hat back on his head and stare at his long time friend.
“Wal,” he drawled, “I weren’t thinkin’ about fixin’ it then.”
Jed hid a grin, pushing a generous portion of Red Bull in his mouth and working it around to his cheek.
“B’sides,” Amos continued with an after thought, “when hit don’t rain, hit don’t leak.
“Ya ever notice, Jed, how some folks jist r’fuse to git along? Why, jist t’other day I asked my Ginny Sue to hand me ‘nother piece o’ chicken an’ ya should o’ seen th’ way she barked at me to git it m’self. Said I was a lazy good f’r nuthin’ so ‘n so. Why, it wasn’t as if I could ‘a he’ped m’self. I’d a had t’ git up an’ walk clean ‘roun’ to t’other side o’ th’ table.” Amos shook his head.. “Ya see what I’m talkin’ about, Jed? Folks is jist hard to git along with. Why, I recollect the time I hurt m’ back an’…,”
“How’d you hurt your back, Mose?”
“Didn’t I tell ya?”
Yeah, a million times if it was once, Jed reflected.
“Wal,” Amos said, “I was restin’ in my rockin’ chair and I jist bent forward to reach for the iced tea. I had asked my Ginny Sue to hand me the iced tea an’ ya know what she said? I’m tellin’ ya Jed, folks is hard t’ git along with. Wal, it’s my Ginny Sue’s fault, I hurt m’ back like I done. I reached forward to git the iced tea an’ m’ back went out jist like that.” Amos snapped his fingers and his pole slid off his lap.
“Yep. Jist like that. It were the darndest thang, th’ way it went out. Laid me up f’r th’ longest time. Why, the place almos’ went to seed while I was laid up w’ m’ bad back. An’ do you think anyone would he’p out poor ol’ Amos here? Nossir, not a bit!”
“I would of come over to help, Mose. I didn’t know you were feeling poorly.” Jed offered again for the millionth time.
“Oh, Lord knows.” Amos exclaimed. “I never doubted it for one minute. Why, you’ve allus been th’ best friend a man could ever want. No, no, I was jist sayin’ how lazy most folks was. Why, I reckon I know how much you have worked all yore life. Why, you’re pr’b’bly th’ hardest workin’ man I have ever seen.”
Jed smiled at the flattery as he pulled the stringer inside the boat and removed the latest catfish from his hook.
“Now you take thet mayor in town there. There is a fine waste o’ skin if I ever saw it.” Amos rested his hand on his patched denim knee as he began a whole new topic.
“You don’t like the mayor, Mose?” Jed said, surprised.
“Why, it ain’t thet I don’t like the man, It’s jist thet I think he’s about as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, thet’s all. An’ he’s about as shif’less as they come.” Amos’ bobber disappeared underneath the water’s golden sheen. He slowly lifted a hand to pull his fishing rod back in place in his lap.
“What makes you say that, Mose?” Jed watched Amos’ fishing line wander back and forth following the snared fish’s attempts to escape its pointy predicament.
“Lan’ sakes! Don’t tell me you hain’t heard!” Amos pushed his hat back on his head. “Why, word is all over town about how he don’t come in to the courthouse until near ten o’clock in the mornin’ and he leaves ever’ day by three thirty, quarter of four at th’ latest.” Amos pulled his hat back down, looking disgusted at Jed’s failure to keep up on local gossip. After a lengthy struggle Amos’ fish escaped the hook and Amos’ bobber floated to the surface to resume its placid posture.
“An’ don’ tell me y’all ain’t heard about the mayor’s dawdlin’ at th’ golf course t’other side o’ town. Why, I heard he spends ever’ spare minute there.”
“How’d you hear that, Mose?” Jed asked.
“Wal, th’ preacher come by th’ house t’other day. He wanted t’ look in on my Ginny Sue as he had heard she warn’t feelin’ the best. I keep tellin’ Ginny Sue she ought not t’ work so hard.. ‘Take life easier, Ginny Sue,’ I tell her, ‘ya ain’t gonna git out o’ it alive, nohow,’ I say. But she jist keeps on workin’ her fingers to th’ bone. Wal, anyways, th’ preacher come by an’ he was tellin’ me he played a game o’ golf w’ th’ mayor t’other day. Ya see? Dawdlin’. He should be tendin’ to th’ people’s business. But instead he spends ever’ spare minute at th’ golf course.” Amos adjusted his hat lower, shielding his eyes from the sun’s low’ring glare in the afternoon sky.
“The stringer’s about full, Mose. You think we should head back?”
“I s’pose, Don’t look like th’ fish are gonna bite anyhow. B’sides, I’ve got a lot o’ work to catch up on.”
“What have you got to do this afternoon, Mose?” Jed smirked at his friend’s schedule.
“Wal, I figure to take a nap an’ rest up f’r a spell, then chase thet no account lazy grandson o’ mine out o’ my rockin’ chair whilst my Ginny Sue fixes some catfish f’r supper.”
Amos held fast to his position while Jed reeled in his line and pulled the stringer into the boat.
“Better pull in your line, Mose. You want me to row back in to shore?”
Amos handed his pole to Jed to reel in and nodded ever so slightly.
“I’d appreciate it, Jed. Y’ know how m’ back’s been hurtin’ me.”
“No problem, Mose. Say, you want to pull up the anchor?”
Amos dropped his hand to the floor of the rowboat and picked up the anchor rope, handing it to Jed.
Jed pulled the anchor across Amos’ recumbent form, dropped the dripping weight in the bottom of the boat, as Amos brushed the water drops off his bulging waist.
Jed turned his back toward his partner, sat down on the middle seat and pivoted both oars into the water. With a few quick, strong strokes Jed sent the rowboat’s keel softly scraping into the mud bank. He stepped out of the boat. Grasping the bow, Jed pulled the boat up a little farther on the bank and straightened to watch Amos struggle to sit up.
Jed spit a long stream of tobacco juice in the mud, reached in the boat and removed the fishing poles, can of worms, and stringer of catfish.
“I’ll jist take mine off the stringer now, Jed,” Amos paused a minute in thought. “There’s a big flat rock up yonder thet works real good f’r cleanin’ them cats. Y’all wouldn’t mind cleanin’ th’ fish would ya, Jed? I’ll jist sit here an’ mind the boat. I heard tell, there’s folks been stealin’ boats hereabouts.”
Jed felt his sun burnt neck begin to redden further but he reminded himself of his lifelong friendship with Amos and he nodded wordlessly as he picked up the stringer and headed for the rock that would serve as a cleaning table.
Amos returned to his former position in the boat and once more pulled his worn fedora down low over his eyes.
A short time later Jed returned to the boat and Amos sat up, pushing his hat back as he heard his partner approaching.
“All set, Mose. You ready to go?”
“I was wonderin’ what took you so long, Jed. Them cats put up quite a struggle, did they?” Amos chuckled at his joke and rose from his position in the boat.
Jed handed his friend part of the catch and Amos took the burlap sack and started toward the pickup. Over his shoulder he said, “Come on over to the house tonight, Jed. Bring yore family. Ginny Sue will cook us up a fish fry. She shore can cook! Cats and hush puppies. Cain’t beat thet, now can ya, Jed?
“Mebbe tomorrow we can go out agin. Mebbe the fish will be bitin’ better then.”