Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Dark Water

Scott A. Mason


The moon shone over the dark water of the Talakchopcohatchee. Down on the river's edge, fishin away, I see Good Ole' Bear. As I paddle my boat, I call out to Bear "Ey, Sir! Whatchu doin ow-down on tha rivva tanigh?"

"Oh I jus be tryin ta catch somtin to eat an maybe keep for the week."

"Ya ketch anythin yet?"

"Jus a couple skates, buh Ima tryin fur a snook or a red, but nuthin yet . . ."

"Well good luck there Bear!"

Sometimes I just go up an down the river's dark water, not fishin, not giggin or nuthin. I just like to see my world different, the dark soothes the soul in a way like no other. It's like that hymn, How Great Thou Art, God's glory, done laid down infront and above of me.

Now Bear, Bear's another story. He's wise, an been on this here earth, for damn near seventy years. He may be old, but he's still strong as the buffalo he tells stories about seein as a child. He's black though, which don't bother me much, but it sure does others. Bear is a man I know loves God, he feeds his family, he loves this town, even in all its flaws. Bear's family helped found this town in the 1880s, and they lived here long before that, back even before the War, too.

The people that seem to hate him most are those people that moved down hear from Upstate or the Mountains or Alabama or Georgia, them with their convoluted attitudes towards black peoples. They use words like negra, darky, and nigger, but I don't. They say those words as if Bear ain't even a person, which I guess for some people he ain't. I knew this town was in a rough spot when the Klan started in around here. Black men helped found Punta DeLaPaz, ya see. It would be just unfittin for the attitudes of the Klansmen to permeate our town, but It just did. People just started movin in. I wish they wouldn't've.

I'm gettin close now to my dock. I live alone. The old ladies at church keep tellin me to get married, but I always tellem if they find one that can put up with me, I'll let the Pastor pre-form the service right then and there. My parents passed away a good few years ago. Us Maylins never seem to last, God keeps callin us up early. At thirty I'm the last one left, since my ma-mom passed away last year. She weren't a Maylin by birth obivously, so I guess God had other plans for her on this earth.

My house is up outside the town, just far enough away to keep those new migrants from botherin me with their laws and hassle. Some people would be nervous to go up to an empty house out in the middle of nowhere. Not me, this way I can do my work. Officiallly I keep a shop in town, I make furniture and help a couple of the carpenters build houses, the ones that I can stand to be around anyways. But what I do out here is what may family has been doing for ages. Moonshinin. Them people from up north talk about shine from corn, but mine definitely ain't. Here in Florida shine is made from cane molasses. It's strong, sweet and clear. It's how I can afford to live out aways. I don't need anybody disturbin my work. Only people that know what I do are the bar owners in town. I bring a boat load up to the town docks, just into the harbor from the dock out the back of my shop. It amuses me to hear people talk about my shine in church on Sunday mornin. Sometimes I just laugh; it's funny what people will tell you when they got no idea you made the shine that gave them a headache or a black eye.

I tie up my boat, hop off, and walk up to the house, my piece slung over my shoulder, sometimes I take a gator for cookin when I'm out at night. Luke, my dog crawls out from under the porch to great me, waggin his tail. My only real friend since ma-mom died. Luke keeps me sane, he does.

That's why my Pa died. He killed my Ma one night. Right there on that dock. He just went crazy one night after making some shine. I was ten. Ma-mom moved into town a year after I was born, so she weren't there. I saw my Pa walk out on the dock, and kiss my Ma an whisper something in her ear. The moon was full, just like tonight. Then she yelled at him, something awful for sure. I mean it must have been. I didn't hear it exactly. I peaked out the window overlookin the dock. I saw him put his hands to her neck, and her screaming stopped.

Silence.

I peaked out the window, and saw my mother layin there on the dock. Lifeless. Arm hangin over the side.

I panicked. I knew what had happened. Pa had always had a mean streak. There were times as a kid, I knew a bone would break. It just had to. Sometimes he would come at Ma the same way, and she... she would scream... I would hide in the swamp waiting for it to stop. But this, this was it.

I went searchin for my Winchester, the rifle Pa had gotten me on my birthday. I'd only shot it once, but Pa didn't know that. I knew what was comin.

Pa started yelling my name, "Clif, boy, you bess tell me wheres you a-hidin." He came in the door. "I ain playin games wit-chu."

I was ready. Behind the grandfather clock, in the corner. A round was in the chamber.

He called my name again "Goddammit, Clif!"

I jumped out. "Lord forgive me."

He was dead.

I put the gun in his hands, like he did it. I ran down to the dock. I saw my Ma. I stepped over her. Holding in every childish urge in my body. I got in the row boat, and started rowing to Ma-mom's dock.

I lost it. I wept like I should have right away. Rowin. Slowly. My tears feelin like they would fill the boat and sink it, surely.

Bear saw me.

He was fishin, just like he was tonight.

He saw me cryin, jumped in the water and swam out to my boat. The he rowed me all the way to my Ma-mom's house. Bear didn't say one word to me. Not one the entire way. When we finally go to Ma-mom's, he carried me up to the house, knocked on the door. Ma-mom, saw me and herself too, she cried. We cried all night.

The next morning I came to an told my story. My Pa killed my Ma, this was the truth I'd tell. The he came in swollen with grief, after realizin what he'd done. I said he took my rifle. And he did it. He took his life. They believed me. They believed me one hundred percent, for sure. The deputy went up to the house to check it out. When He came back he apologized for what I'd seen.

I was mad, sad, an everything in between, but I wasn't sorry.

Now I'm just sittin on my porch, that old clock in the house chimes. 11:00. It's gettin late. I go around back and grab a mint leaf or two, go to the kitchen an take a glass, crush the mint, pour in the shine on the counter and resume my place on my porch. Luke sits beside me.

___

Scott A. Mason is a Graduate Student at The University of Mississippi.  He grew up in the small town of Punta Gorda, Florida, a place where new Florida meets old Florida in every facet of life, and has remained in the South since.

 

© Scott A. Mason

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012