Coffin Ass At certain times of day under particular conditions morning light shining off the river mist convinced us that we were in an episode of Land of the Lost. Thick fog rising from the water partially occluded the sun rising over the mountain creating hazy yellow light making it difficult to tell what was fog and what was water. Summer bugs already thick in the early morning hours filled the empty spaces between mist and water, fish rippled wakes under the bugs tracking them as breakfast targets, occasionally breaking from the water to catch a morsel.
"Ssssssssllllssss, slllllsssssworms. Sllllssssss." Curt hissed pointing towards a gallon sized Maxwell House can full of stinking, rotted worms. It was going to be one of those days where he spoke only in the language of the Sleestak.
For the last week there had been nothing but rain and all the adults up and down river were afraid the flood earlier in the year would repeat itself in late summer casting us all back into clean-up mode when we still smarted from two years ago when the river really flooded. The kids, fisherman we called ourselves, just wanted to be able to get out and throw a line into the muddy water and see what was biting.
Three nights before our fishing excursion we lugged a heavy car battery over to the green between Front Street and the highway. Curt attached a long wire lead to each side of the battery connected to long, thin steel probes 1/4" thick, two feet long. We each pushed the probes into the moist soil all the way in to the ruffled grass with the probes spread about four feet apart. The electricity conducted through the wet earth did just what it was supposed to do; night crawlers and other earth worms made it to the surface quickly trying to escape the teasing pain of unnatural voltage we'd introduced to their world. In minutes we had a hundred extra large fishing worms carefully loaded into our coffee can. Curt placed the can up on top of our back porch fridge to kill the worms and accellerate their decomposition. Rotten worms definitely are the best bait for catfish if it's possible to get past the smell while baiting them on a hook, that is.
"Ssssssllllssss, sssllllmore worms. Sllllsssss." I understood him the first time but was more concerned about finding a board or sheet of plastic to sit down on. The bank was muddy and wet and my brand new painters pants were in that rare state of having not one single stain or tear in them yet.
"Get your own damn worms," I muttered at him walking to the storm sewer pipe to look for a piece of dry anything to protect my dry ass.
"Ssssssllllssss, sssllllazy ssssllllpussy." I heard his chair creak and the lid snap off the worm bucket as I walked away.
Near the ass end of the sewer pipe, lodged in a snag of driftwood and debris there was a thick piece of dark wood a few feet longer than I was tall measuring about two feet wide. I dug it out and marvelled at how smooth and finished the edges were. It must've been the door to a fancy cupboard, I thought wrestling it over to where Curt sat reeling in fish after fish.
"Ssssssllllssss, sssscatfish ssssllnumber ssssslllsix," I heard him say in that sick, slithering tongue. Among our family Curt has always been the most diligent and patient fisherman.
I lugged the heavy board, dragging it, walking backwards through the soft, soggy lawn down to the water's edge where Curt sat on a frayed folding lawn chair. Twice along the way I fell down with the board laying on top of me, one heavy hinge dangling still from where the door was ripped from its jamb, the bronze hinge landing each time near my left temple. The second time when I got up I noticed a fancy Gaelic cross inlaid in the top of the door. That must've been a real fancy cabinet. The underside even had some type of tattered liner dangling from it. For now it would be something for me to sit down on; that was all I cared about. I'd tell someone about it later, maybe our Father.
Back at the water's edge Curt had his two fishing rods each with a line already cast sixty to seventy feet in and was threading a rotten worm onto the hooks of my rig when our father rode up on his lawnmower. It was too soggy to mow, he'd find that out soon enough. Curt cast my line into the water for me and handed me my pole. The mower engine coughed to a stop just as Curt yanked hard on the middle fishing rod setting a hook in another catfish.
Dad walked down to where we sat, Curt in his flimsy folding chair and me on my find of walnut and inlaid ivory.
"Get up off that thing," I thought he was talking bruskly to Curt for sitting in such a flimsy chair. Dad was always telling us to make sure we had good shoes on, a firm foundation between us and falling.
"Don't you have any respect for the dead?" He grabbed me by my arm pulling me to my feet. I slipped in the mud and fell right on the hinge, cutting my hand in the meat of my palm. That hinge was determined to get me, I thought.
"Boy...," he said like the warden in Cool Hand Luke, "you've been pressin' your ass against a coffin lid."
I couldn't believe it. He was right. It was the perfect shape, the right size, the thickness looked appropriate...I had been mooning the lid of a deadman's coffin. We'd heard tell of coffins becoming unearthed during floods but never had seen one. Dad hadn't even seen one though he'd seen enough dead bodies, floaters on the river, he never saw the box. Curt kept on fishing, reeling in his latest catch.
"Ssssssllllssss, sslllscoffin ass ssslllssssss." The rest of the day I had a new name.