by Bob Irwin
It’s six-forty-five in the morning, and Frank is the first one up. He’s frying bacon—in his underwear. I walk in.
Frank says, “The lark is up to meet the sun, the bee is on the wing!”
That’s what he says just about every morning when someone walks in on him in the kitchen.
“Where does that come from?” Lloyd asks.
“Shakespeare,” Frank says.
“I doubt it,” I say.
I can’t tell if Frank really does think it comes from Shakespeare or whether he’s joking. We look it up. It comes from William Holmes McGuffey’s McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer (1849).
Riley stumbles in after having emptied his bag. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer and had his bladder removed in May. He’s eighty and the surgery was just five months ago. He’s already able to move pretty well over slippery rocks in fast moving water in search of the wily brook trout. We have a deal with Riley: he promises not to empty his bag in the stream. After breakfast, it’s too cold to fish. We decide to wait until the frost burns off.
The phone rings. Frank answers it. It’s Trish. I can hear her on the line.
“Is Bob there, Frank?”
Trish wants to know if I caught any trout yesterday (yes, twelve) and if I fell in the stream (no). She tells me she bought tickets to Boots and Bling. I ask her who her date will be. She says, “You.” Boots and Bling is the annual fundraiser for the women’s shelter where she volunteers. You dress up like a cowboy/cowgirl, eat a mediocre dinner and dance in lines. I get off the phone. I complain to Frank, Lloyd and Riley.
Frank says, “That’s the trouble with you, Bob. You don’t know how to say ‘No’ to your wife.”
“I just said ‘No,’” I say.
He says, “I know you. You say ‘No’ to her but you’ll go anyway.”
“Some country music outfit just declared that George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” is the best country song ever written,” Lloyd says.
Riley says, “That’s ridiculous. It’s a dumb song, and if you’re going to say that a George Jones song would be the best country song, it would have to be “The King is Gone (So Are You).”
He gives us a sample of the lyrics: Last night I broke the seal on a Jim Beam decanter that looks like Elvis. I soaked the label off a Flintstone Jelly Bean jar. I cleared us off a place on that one little table that you left us, and pulled me up a big ole piece of floor. I pulled the head off Elvis, filled Fred up to his pelvis. Yabba Dabba Doo, the King is gone and so are you.
Frank says, “I think I have that one.”
He goes to his collection of CDs, and sure enough, he has it and we listen to it on his Bang and Olufsen.
We clean up the breakfast dishes, get our gear together, saddle up and go to the river in pursuit of some of the brook trout the DNR put there a few weeks ago. The part of the stream we want to fish is on private land. But Frank knows its owner, Jim Pugh, so we have permission to fish there. Pugh is there. He’s cutting down a big maple tree. He tells us he’s been catching trout lately on number twelve simulator dry flies. Since he’s letting us fish on his place, none of us wants to tell him that the proper name of the fly is “stimulator,” not “simulator.” Pugh starts up his chain saw again. Riley empties his bag in a clump of bushes and puts on his waders.
“What kind of crazy name is ‘Pugh’ anyway?” Riley asks. “Wonder if he got a lot of grief about that in elementary school.”
Lloyd says, “‘Pugh’ is Welsh. Comes from ‘Ap Hugh.’ The patronymic in Welsh is ‘Ap.’ So ‘son of Hugh’ gets reduced to ‘Pugh.’ Same thing with ‘Ap Richard.’ It becomes ‘Pritchard.’”
Frank says, “That’s the trouble with you, Lloyd. The things you are interested in, no one else cares about.”
Riley and I both say we’re interested.
“Well, I am too, but I’ve been pulling Lloyd’s chain for more than fifty years and I don’t see why I should stop now,” Frank says.
We spread out a few hundred yards apart on the stream. The sky is perfect Microsoft blue. I’m catching and releasing a small rainbow or brookie on about every fifth cast. When we get together later for a mid-afternoon streamside lunch, I find out that everyone else has been catching lots of fish too. Riley gets out the lunch, including the crackers and cheese I was in charge of bringing. Saga bleu and Vermont extra sharp cheddar and Wasa multi-grain “Crispbread” crackers. The Wasa crackers are a deviation from the usual Carr’s water crackers, so I know I’m going to get some comments.
“These crackers have absolutely no taste,” Frank says.
“Not true; they taste like R-19 insulation,” says Riley.
Lloyd says, “That’s the trouble with you guys. You have no class. Here’s Bob, trying to branch out a little and bring some adventure to our sorry old lives, and you complain.”
“Crackers aren’t important,” Riley says. “Think of them as a cheese delivery mechanism.”
From then on, it was “Pass me the R-19s,” and “Boy, I like these R-19s.” We fish on after lunch. It’s one of our best fishing days in years. The hillsides are in full dress color. The water is clear.
Late in the afternoon, we’ve all had enough fishing, so we take off the waders, break down the rods and crowd into Frank’s new fancy truck with the four-seater cab and more luxuries than the Ritz Carlton. On the way back to the cabin, someone gets the idea that we should go to High’s restaurant for some of their homemade pie. I have pecan, Lloyd has blueberry, Riley has coconut cream. Frank doesn’t have any but he eats part of everyone else’s. My pie is a little gooey, so I ask the waitress, the one with the cleft chin, for more napkins.
“Can’t you just use your pants?” she says. She brings me napkins.
We go back to the cabin. We pour ourselves some drinks and go out on the porch and listen to the stream roll by. Lloyd and I have martinis with three olives. Frank has a Manhattan. Riley doesn’t feel like drinking. He says he hasn’t wanted to drink since his bladder surgery. Frank cranks up the Bang and Olufsen to play dinner music. We know it’s going to be Ravel, Debussy, Patsy Cline or Bill Evans—Frank’s favorites. It’s Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, the one that has the sad sound of church bells in the second movement. Frank heads to the kitchen and starts in on some kind of chicken casserole. We pour more drinks and open up a bag of cheese curls. We drink gin and whiskey and eat cheese curls and watch television while the casserole bakes.
The television says the country is turning toward making marijuana legal.
“I thought marijuana was a gateway drug,” Riley says.
Lloyd says, “If it’s a gateway drug, what would it be a gateway to? Cheese curls?”
“That’s it,” someone says: “The Cheese Curl Manufacturers of America have mounted a lobbying campaign to legalize marijuana and they are succeeding.”
We have the casserole, wedge salads with bleu cheese dressing and Frank’s famous salt rising bread. Frank collapses in a chair and starts reading a book.
Riley signs off and goes to bed. He’s plenty strong enough to wade fast water, but he realizes he needs to go to bed early. Lloyd gets out the cards and the board, and he and I play three games of cribbage. I win two. It’s a buck a game. We settle up and he gives me one buck. Now we’re all tired enough to go to bed. When I pack up the cards, I find the ace of diamonds in the box. That nullifies the results of all three games, so I have to give him his buck back. I go downstairs and fall into bed in my underwear. The last thing I think about before I drift off is the story Riley told sometime today about the time he and Frank got banished from Methodist Sunday school when they were nine years old. They made a cross out of paint stirrer sticks and crucified a frog on it. Riley says they didn’t really hurt the frog and when the Sunday school teacher liberated it, it rose again from the dead. I’m chuckling to myself when I turn out the light.
Bob Irwin is a public health consultant living in North Conway, New Hampshire. He spent 32 years working on policy and legislation in Washington, DC, for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the 1960s and 1970s, he published many poems in literary magazines, most of which are now defunct. This is his first fiction publication.
John Van Besien lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where he runs his photography studio, John Van Besien Portraits.