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Ahab
 
by Rick Hartman
  

Scott's house was drab olive, with the smell of garden soil. It was outside of town, close to the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. My dad had dropped me off and was talking to the Major as I ran in. The two parents were leaning on the horse trailer that was in the driveway.

The Major had a certain way of speaking to my dad that I didn't understand. I didn't know that it was an indication of respect. I didn't begin to understand that until after I understood that all those things framed on the wall in our den were medals, and that "Vietnam" wasn't just something my dad did before I was born. In that same room, my dad kept a crossbow that he had taken from a villager and some personal things of his dead brother's. He called it his "Go To Hell" room. Some days he would spend hours in there, resting in that easy chair and just being quiet. Sometimes I liked to be with him then, simply sitting on the floor in front of him without saying anything. I think he enjoyed that too; he would just smile and look at me.

I liked the Major. I was impressed by the uniform I sometimes saw him wearing. He had that career military look and manner. He used to take Scott and I camping a lot. My own dad always said that he had done "enough camping for three life times" and never went with us. This weekend, though, we weren't going camping. I was just going to spend the night at Scott's house.

He wasn't done with his chores yet, so Scott's mom poured me a glass of iced tea and sat me on the other side of the kitchen counter. Scott was always doing chores, or arguing with his sister about whose turn it was to do what. But I still thought he was lucky. Compared to my neighborhood, it seemed exciting to live out there with a barn and horses and fields all around where there was always another rock climb or another snake to catch—even if he did have to do more chores.

I had gotten in trouble with my teacher again that week, and Scott's mom was lecturing me about it. She was saying the same things that my mom had said, so I wasn't listening much. I was getting impatient and uncomfortable when Scott came in their back door with a bursting "I'm done!"

He was excited to see me and I jumped off the stool. "Come on!" he said and went past me, running upstairs to his bedroom. Scott was always running. My dad called him "the house ape." When I asked Dad what I was, he said "a curtain climber" and we both laughed.

His mom called after us as I followed Scott up the stairs. "What are you going to do?"

He called back, "I'm going to show him the lizard, then we're going fishing." His mom said something neither of us heard as I reached the top. We always climbed the stairs as if we were scaling a mountain: on all fours to keep from tripping as we hurried up.

Scott's room, like mine, had clothes all over the floor and two glass aquariums on the dresser. One was empty, but he was taking the top off the other. He pulled out a large grey lizard. We had caught many like that before, but this one was especially big, and Scott was grinning proudly as he handed it to me.

"What does he eat?" I asked, inspecting it. I didn't want my friend to know that I was impressed.

"Oh, I tried to feed him vegetables, but he didn't like it. He likes grasshoppers, though." I had turned it over to look at its shiny belly.

"Hey look," I said, "He lost his tail once." Scott came over and looked. There was a telltale kink near the base of the tail. The rest was new growth.

He took the lizard back. "We'll bring him some grasshoppers and watch him eat when we get back."

"Hey, let's catch another one, and I'll keep him." All I had was a hermit crab that was boring and didn't eat things that moved. My other aquarium was empty.

"Okay. Did you bring your fishing pole?"

"Yeah, it's in the car."

Scott had put the lizard back and was sliding out one of the drawers in his dresser. I was sitting on the bottom of his bunk bed. He pulled out a small tackle box and opened it as he put it beside me on the bed. Its trays contained a lot of hooks and some string, lead sinkers and a few red and white bobbers. There were also some really old "Salmon eggs" brightly pink in their glass container, beside a spoon for scaling the fish.

"Hey, look out for my mom," he said. I followed as he walked out the bedroom door.

"What are you going to do?"

"I want to use one of my dad's lures."

He walked down the hall, crossing the top of the stairs, and quietly opened the door to his parent's bedroom. I was standing near the door, but listening for his mom. I heard him opening one of the closet doors, and he soon came back out. He showed it to me when we were back in his bedroom. It was multi-colored, shining and covered with hooks. I didn't think it would work, but didn't say anything.

When all was in order and the illicit lure well hidden in the tackle box, he closed it and we ran back downstairs. We passed his mom vacuuming the living room, and went to the garage, where he grabbed his fishing pole before we went outside. Our dads were still talking.

"Well, where are you two going?" my dad asked.

"Over there." Scott used his pole to point across the field that his house faced. My dad laughed, "Just 'over there' huh?"

I opened the car door to get my own pole and tackle box. Unless it was winter, I always brought them with me whenever I spent the night at Scott's house.

"Son, take your stuff up to Scott's room. I'm going to be leaving soon." I sighed with frustration and took my backpack out of the front seat. I would have rather just stayed all weekend in the clothes I already had on. Instead of saying anything, I laid my fishing gear on the ground and ran back inside to throw the backpack on the bottom bunk.

When we were ready to go again, my dad said "You two be careful now. I'll pick you up Sunday, son. We can get doughnuts, and Scott can come if he wants." Every Sunday, he took me alone to the doughnut shop and had me read the funnies to him while he sipped coffee. I was better at reading than anyone in my class.

Scott's dad said, "Scott, be back before it gets dark." In the cool morning, under the bright sun, that seemed like a very long time away. I said goodbye to Dad.

The field was protected by a barbed-wire fence, and my shirt caught as I passed between. Scott's t-shirt almost never got caught. People said that we looked like brothers; we both had blonde hair that became almost white in the summer months, and hazel eyes. He was shorter and thinner than I was though, and I always won whenever we wrestled or got in a real fight. He always won whenever we raced, and did better in that soccer camp than I did.

Our tackle boxes thumped against our thighs as we walked across the field. The grass and weeds came up to my waist, and clouds of grasshoppers jumped back and forth across our path as we made our way. We were both wearing shorts, and my legs itched.

"Is your dad going to be here?" I asked

"No, this is one of the weekends when he leaves."

"What does he do when he's gone?"

"I don't know."

I knew what my dad did. He worked. Two o'clock every morning he got up and delivered bread. Most days he was back before I walked home from school, but sometimes not. He was usually tired and went to bed right after mom made dinner. She also worked somewhere, but didn't seem so tired all the time. Normally, she would have dropped me off, but dad said that he had someone else "pull up" his route that morning, so he drove me instead. I didn't know what he was talking about.

We were walking up a hill. On the other side, the grass wasn't so tall and everything looked more brown. Scott asked me if I could go camping with them in a couple weeks when we didn't have to go to school any more. I said that I would ask my mom and dad.

We were off of the hill, and there were holes all over the field. Most of the prairie dogs probably heard us coming, because we saw only one. It was standing on its hind legs, making little squeaking sounds. Scott dropped his pole, picked up a rock, and threw it. The prairie dog was too far away, and didn't even react; it just kept looking at us with its little black eyes. I knew it was too far away and didn't bother. I just kept walking.

Scott said, "I should have brought my sling-shot..." as he caught up to me again.

"I thought your mom took it from you."

"She did, but I found where she hides it."

"Have you tried to sneak it yet?"

"Yeah, I took it to school and showed it to someone."

"You didn't get caught?"

"Nope."

The prairie dog darted inside its hole when we came closer. Sometimes we would jump up and down around those holes, or throw stones down them to scare the animals out. It never worked.

We came to another hill, and the lake was on the other side. It was small, but we usually caught something there. A few trees and bushes had gathered around its edges, and we put our fishing gear in the shade of a willow.

Scott wanted to go swimming first, so we took our shirts, shoes and socks off to jump in the water. It was cold until I dunked my head under. Cold mountain streams fed all of the lakes around there. When my head came back up, I could see our ripples going out into the lake and beyond that were the fields and the blue-grey mountains. I liked that I lived so close to the Rockies.

We swam from one side of the lake to the other and back. We also had a couple of races to see who was the better swimmer, and when we finally got bored and tired we stepped out a little ways from where we got in. My bare foot came down on something sharp, but I forgot about the pain when Scott called excitedly, "Hey, look at this!" He was pointing at the ground.

I looked, and it was the skin of a snake. We both knew all about snakes, and this was the skin of a diamond back rattler. It was over four feet long, and had been shed recently enough that it wasn't dried out. I was half excited and half scared. Scott said, "Maybe we should go somewhere else."

I waited before answering. We were always daring each other to do things, without really saying it. "No, let's try to find it."

I don't think either of us tried very hard, and I was happy that neither of us saw any more signs of it; we both acted disappointed, though. When we came back, Scott gently picked up the skin and folded it without making it break. It was simply understood that the prize was his. He had been the first to see it. He put it in his tackle box.

We dug in the willow's shade to find some worms that I could use; Scott was going to try his dad's lure. I let some line out and used my teeth to clamp the two small, soft-lead sinkers a little above the hook. Further up, I attached the bobber. The pole itself was lying on the ground as I punctured a fat nightcrawler with my hook. The metal went through the thick band near one end of its body. It writhed, and so I had to sort of unfold it in order to send the hook through one more place. I was happy that it was squirming around so much; I thought it might attract the fish. Scott was done setting up his line about the same time I was. The lake water was leaving a sticky residue as it dried on us.

His lure didn't work, and neither did my worm before it flew off the hook on one of my casts, landing with a plop a little way off from where the cast landed hook, sinker and bobber.

We moved to another spot after catching some more worms, one of which Scott put on a normal hook. That lure was meant for much bigger fish than what this lake had, we decided. After several tangles, snapped lines and a reel problem with my pole, we were getting bored again and about to go back. I was already reeling in my line for the last cast of the day, when the bobber on Scott's line dunked itself. He jerked the pole to set the hook.

"I think I got it!"

I didn't say anything. I was jealous and hoped that he would lose it. As he continued reeling, he seemed to be disappointed. "I don't know if I lost it or if it's just really small."

It turned out to be a very small sunfish, with the afternoon light showing a rainbow in its scales. It had taken the hook down far, and Scott ripped it out, opening the fish from gill through the hard, raised ridge of its lips. His hands were wet with fish slime.

"It's too small to eat." I told him needlessly. Scott was happy to have caught anything at all, but I was glad that it was too small to do anything with. "We should put it back."

He was watching it twitch on the ground.

"Nah." He said.

"What do you want to do with it?"

"I don't know." Then he reached beside him, into his tackle box, and pulled out a scaling spoon. He scraped it against the scales, and they gathered up against the dull metal as he dragged it against the body. Scott seemed bored. The mutilated gill was opening and closing.

Scott dropped the spoon, his hand darting out in a quick, sure motion. I dodged just in time as it flew past my head. Laughing, I ran back to pick it up, and hurled it as hard as I could at my best friend. "Catch!" The fish was slippery, and he missed. It went back and forth a couple more times, but somehow became boring when it wasn't trying to breathe any more. In a final flourish, Scott slapped its body against the water, and we left it. We got as much of the slime off of our hands as we could with the lake water, using our shorts to wipe them off.

We gathered everything after we put the rest of our clothes back on, and headed to his drab olive house. Scott put a couple grasshoppers in his tackle box, and we set off, away from the fields that had brought us to the lake. There was a road this other way, which we could follow back to his house; we were tired and hoped that somebody might drive by to give us a ride in the back of a truck. It seemed like everyone who lived near Scott drove a truck. When we made the last turn to his house, I was thinking that he lived in sort of a neighborhood too. It was just more spread out than mine.

Scott's mom said that we stank of fish and made us clean up before dinner. She always said "warsh" instead of "wash." After we ate, Scott carefully opened the tackle box to put the grasshoppers in with the lizard. It's quick little eye looked up when the top to its glass cage was removed, but it just sat there after Scott put the mesh cover back on. It didn't even react when a grasshopper landed on its head, so Scott and I left to watch some television. Scott got in a yelling match with his sister, and then his mom made us go to bed.

We stayed awake for a while, whispering about dirty things we had heard but didn't really understand and laughing at jokes that we didn't really get. His mom came in once to tell us to quiet down and go to sleep. Instead, we talked about likely places to catch another lizard the next day. Then we talked about the possible camping trip, and ended up laughing for no reason at all. When she came in this time, she was really mad. Her hair was all messed up and she was wearing a green robe; she stood in the doorway and glared at us for a while. When she left, Scott and I said "Goodnight" to each other, but I soon heard him whispering to himself above me.

"What are you doing?"

"Praying." There was a pause.

"God can't hear you." I said.

"Yes He can."

"How?" My voice had the same tone I used when I was daring him to do something.

"Because He's God."

"That's stupid."

"You're stupid." Said Scott, and then we didn't talk anymore.

My parents never took me to church, but I still prayed sometimes—just in case God could hear me. When I closed my eyes, I thought about that fish ripped, scraped and breathing under the sun. I prayed just a little bit, and silently.

  

Rick Hartman currently resides in Tempe, Arizona while finishing his undergraduate degree in Philosophy—after a few years outside the academy—before going on to earn a Ph.D. and teach in the same. He has won several academic awards and has had several essays published in the revised edition of Inge Bell's This Book Is Not Required and Bernard McGrane's The Un-T.V. and the 10 Mph Car, which deal mostly with analyzing the social construction of our "everyday" reality.

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