Flumes Volume 2: Issue 1, Summer 2017 - Page 63

“I want you to know right off,” she announced. “I’m on vacation. I an’t gonna clean no fish I personally an’t gonna eat.” The men just laughed. My sisters and I were scandalized, and immediately began to beg to learn how to clean fish.

The men caught very little as it turned out. The fish were plentiful but wise. It didn’t matter to us girls. We had stopped paying any attention. We took off on our own, walking the raised dirt platforms that marked the old rice fields and inspecting the locked-down wooden frames used to direct the tides into the various rice fields still intact. The remains of the plantation were laid out like a giant chessboard, designed so we could walk the border of each rough square, cleared enough that we could see the snakes sunning themselves in the grass before they heard you coming. Where the deeper water entered, the trees stood like the legs of fossilized Clydesdales, spindly and fine at the top, wide and swollen at the base. Where the trees parted, the grasslands went on for miles, stretching to the sea, here and there spotted with islands of maple and straggly palms, ringed with slow-moving creeks and rivers. We raced each other along the dikes and ate peanut butter sandwiches in the shade of stunted pines. Startlingly beautiful white birds called out as we passed, osprey, ibis, egret, ducks, and wood storks. Some lifted their enormous wings and swung up into a sky so blue and pure it made my heart hurt to stare into its reaches.

Mama told us that Indians – Cherokee even – had lived in those swamps once, and runaway slaves and poor whites had come there, the latter fleeing sheriffs who would have locked them up for debt. All of them passed through carefully, leaving no mark, and that was what we were to do – carrying out everything we carried into the swamp. We peered through screens of ferns and wild rice grass, and played at being runaways hiding in the tall clumps of grass. We tied our hair up in handkerchiefs, put rubber bands around the cuffs of our jeans to keep out the bugs, and brought back gifts of wildflowers and broken shells for Mama to admire. We would have brought her lily pads, but pulled free of the water they stank and shriveled. Instead, we searched out glittery feathers from those big white birds.

Back at the trailer, my stepfather and Uncle Beau had cursed their luck with fish, given up and gone off to get a bucket of spiced shrimp from one of the highway stands. Mama had put her paperback down and was lying quietly, staring up into the clear blue sky. “You come here,” she called to us, sitting up