In the Beginning
In the summer the grass turned brown, lighter than khaki really, and crunched underfoot as the boy in his worn Ked’s sneakers, those most comfortable that his mom hated, made his way into the shimmering dream of heat across the pasture, checking over his shoulder from time to time to make sure old Gabriel wasn’t acting up. Most days the big Hereford stood in the sun or rain minding his own business, but every once in a while he would shake his curly red tufts as if to shake off restraint and run at whoever or whatever had irritated his peace: man, bug, wind. He was polled, had his horns cut off before Charlie was ever born, but that didn’t stop him from trying, and one of those tries had landed Charlie’s dad in the hospital with two broken ribs.
“Just caught me off guard is all,” said his dad. But he also promised to have Gabriel on a plate beside a baked potato if it ever happened again.
Watching behind him, Charlie let the end of his fishing poll dip too low and had to bend down and untangle the hook from the grass. Then he sat down for while, letting the taller weeds hide him and tickle his face until they made him itch. He was sure the sweat and dust conspired, gathering grandma’s beads on his neck, and his mom would want him to wash as soon as he got home. But he would have so many fish that it might take all night just to clean them unless his dad helped. He might. Cows moved along the barbed-wire fence nearby and periodically glanced expectantly at Charlie. If he made his cow sound, they would come to him, because he always made it when he came with his dad or granddad to feed the twenty-three head they had here. He picked up his rod and reel and the small, green tackle box and walked the rest of the way the stock pond where a snapping turtle sat, red-streaked neck stretched as far in the air as possible, trying to determine the source of noise that was Charlie’s approach.
He ignored the turtle as it scrambled to the water’s edge, and eventually, it ignored him as it eased back to its spot in the sun. But that was after Charlie had settled on his stump near the opposite side. If his dad had been fishing with him, Charlie would have been nearer the other oak trees that populated the far edge of the pond. This summer had brought more rain than usual early on, so there was more grass, though the cows had pulled up or trod down most of it around the water’s edge. Hoof prints lined the muddy sides where they had come to drink. Charlie was glad none were in there now stirring up the mud and scaring the fish. He opened his tackle box and got the tuna can of worms out of the bottom. He laughed, remembering a joke about how to keep the worms warm in the winter and stopped still to watch a bee at his feet. A single flower of clover had remained protected between the stump roots, and the honey bee lit and rubbed her front legs down into the middle of the flower. He tried to remember the parts from his science class but couldn’t. Pistol? Stirrup? Stamen? Or was that the parts of the ear?
School would start again soon. His mom was already talking about getting him new jeans and sneakers. He would probably end up with some shirts that he didn’t like but would have to wear for at least a week or two before he could get away with leaving home in the white t-shirts he preferred, like the one he was wearing now. After the bee was finished and gone, Charlie threaded a worm onto his hook and clipped a small cork, red and white plastic, to the line, small because the water was still. He cast out as far as he could but came up short of the middle where the brown water was deepest. He watched the cork, the dragonflies, the horseflies, and waited. Neither breeze nor angel stirred the water, no fish, no turtle, no snake troubled his bait. After eating his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, slightly mashed from being under the worms, he moved to the weeds on the back side of the pond and had no better luck there, but a butterfly, almost pure white, landed on his matching shirt. They stood together for while, the butterfly clinging to him and Charlie clinging to the bark of a stray pine so he wouldn’t move too much and frighten his new friend. Charlie watched him for a long time and then coaxed it onto his finger, and they studied one another until one of them flew away.
Charlie was eight.
by Bill Lancaster