By C.L. Bledsoe
We called the big stock pond The Lake. It stretched
from the old WPA levee, alongside the gravel
pit, to another levee that separated it from a drainage
pond on the south end, and then petered out into marsh.
The pump sent the water pouring out into the drainage
ditch on the other side of the levee until The Lake shrank
to the size of a pond, then, a handful of guys would set
out in their hip waders to seine it.
The trick is that you can’t stop walking or you’ll sink.
The mud sucked at feet with hungry slurps. They’d drag
the net across the muddy water and slop and splurt
their way to the bank. A tractor with a basket was braced
on the shore. They had to separate the channel cats from mud
cats, any other odd fish or other things that had ended
up in the nets. The catfish would go into a fish tank
in the back of a pickup truck to be hauled to the shed
where they kept the larger tanks, soon, to be sold
to customers. Seagulls lined the banks to eat the mud
cats or whatever else was thrown in the grass and dirt
to die. You could smell the rotting fish all over the valley.
I wanted a dog because that’s what boys
do. Dad bartered a redbone puppy
from a buddy and let me keep it outside,
ostensibly to teach it to hunt, as soon
as I learned, myself. I bugged him to help me
build a house for it, but every night, he rolled
in too pissed to hold a hammer. Afternoons,
after school, I’d climb the long hill, and Red
would launch himself at my head, knocking
me down. He liked to chase my sister’s cat
from her food until she swiped him a good
one on the nose. We could’ve been any other
boy and his dog.
___________________Dad came in drunk
a few days after we brought Red home, said
he saw a skunk outside, and went to shoot it.
I heard the rifle’s report, then a long silence.
Dad came back in a while later, even redder
faced. He went to bed and wouldn’t speak.
The next morning, Red was gone.
The New Pond
Tornado knocked down the tin
shack we stored chemicals in, dumping
old poison, fertilizer, oil, who
can remember what into the white dust.
We figured more room to store the fish
we kept in vats in the south shed might cut
down on floaters, so we backhoed
a pit and bulldozed dirt up in a square
on the edge of the east field where the shed
once stood—we grew winter wheat, corn,
even grapes, there, once upon a time—trucked
in water and filled it with fingerlings
that were all floating in a couple days.
We scooped them out, buried them to cut
the smell, and started a series of experiments
based on the often drunken assertions
of passersby, involving dumping various
chemicals into the water, usually when
we were drunk, ourselves. We didn’t know
what it was killing them and didn’t want
to waste the money restocking it over
and over, so folks would bring whatever
strange fish they caught and didn’t want:
bowfins, grass carp, drums, gars, even
turtles. Nothing we could sell. Trout,
bass, crappies, and the like floated within
a day, but the trash fish survived. Eventually,
bullfrogs sang. Nobody’d eat them.
C.L. Bledsoe is the assistant editor for The Dead Mule and author of fourteen books, most recently the poetry collection Trashcans in Love and the flash fiction collection Ray’s Sea World. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize thirteen times, Best of the Net three times, and has had two stories selected as Notable Stories of the Year by Story South’sMillion Writers Award. Originally from rural Arkansas, Bledsoe lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.