By Cindy and Walt
NOTE: This Chapter starts with the new Format.
Voice in my head: Here we are again old girl.
Me: I told you to stop calling me old girl.
Liam: Just a figure of speech. I know thirty eight isn’t old.
Me: Trust me, it’s old enough…
As I had the conversation with my imaginary friend I looked through the dirty window. The view wasn’t anything special. The swamp is just grass and water with a few trees on what little dry land there is.
If I hadn’t loved the weather on the gulf coast, I would have run farther. In the two months I had been Gracie Allen, I had not seen a soul who had any chance of recognizing me. Since I had given the reporter and cameramen the slip by not really going on the cruise, no one else even looked. There might have been someone with a score to settle, but I was just too hard for them to find for them to bother.
In those two months I had learned to fish. I had pretended to fish a few other times in my life, but as Gracie I really fished. I even learned how to fillet and cook the smelly little bastards. Yeah that’s how bored I was.
I heard the small outboard motor slow, then stop as the boat glided to my little dock.
Juan: Hello in the house Miss Gracie.
Juan wasn’t Mexican or even Hispanic at all, he had informed me when we first met. He was a Latin coon ass Cajun.
Me: Well if it ain’t my favorite Cajun. What you doing in the weeds?
I knew what he was doing, but it was what people did on Cord Bayou. You just never assumed anything. One always asked.
Juan: Why, I come to take you fishin Cher.
Me: Juan what am I going to do with all the fish you catch? I can’t eat them all.
Juan: I’m gonna make you a partner. I’m gettin’ too old to do this alone.
He was right about that. He must have been eighty. I sure as hell hoped I was as sharp as him when I am eighty. If it weren’t for the white hair and skin like leather, he could have passed for fifty. Well he didn’t have any teeth and he ate with his hands, but otherwise he could have. He was active enough for sure.
Me: If you don’t have anyone else, I will go with you. About all I can do is pull you out if you fall overboard. (I smiled when I said it.)
Juan: I ain’t never fell out of no boat sober, but I shore do thank you for the offer.
He had the most interesting smile for a man with no teeth. I couldn’t help it. I wondered how it would feel to have someone like him perform oral sex on me.
Liam: Are you out of your fucking mind?
Me: Liam, I have also wondered what it would like to fuck a ghost, but I never did.
When I laughed I knew Juan was thinking I was a crazy woman. Even if he did, he didn’t cancel his invitation. Hell why would he, I was free labor. On the Bijou everyone traded favors so now I had a favor in the bank.
There were a lot of tourist and day fishermen who came around, but not many residents. Hell I had to drive all the way to New Iberia to buy groceries. I couldn’t live on fish. No matter how much I would liked to have lived off the Bijou. I liked rice okay, but not enough to eat it everyday.
However I did tried the Ultimate Alaskan Survival Diet, that first month I had lived on the swamp. It was simply a pound of rice, a pound of any dried beans, plus whatever I could kill or catch in the bayou. I stayed on it the necessary three days, then stuffed myself on Big Macs. After that one day it was back to the rice, beans and whatever I could come up with.
After I bought the cabin on stilts at the edge of the water, I traded the cute little car I had Wilson buy for me. For it I got a five year old Jeep SUV that looked like a station wagon to me. The Jeep came with a three year bumper to bumper warranty from the used car dealer, so the price reflected it.
I had paid cash for the car as part of my new identity. Its value exceeded that of the Jeep. But since it was the most basic and cheapest vehicle Nissan sold in America the trade was almost even. The dealer did throw in a five hundred dollar gift card to Walmart.
With that card I bought a sleeping bag, a couple of fishing rods, a .22 Magnum lever action rifle with a scope. The clerk called it a saddle rifle since it had a short barrel.
I also bought a .22 single shot bolt action open sight rifle, and of course a short barreled 12 gauge shotgun. The shotgun was an over and under. I had been reading a police novel on the Internet. It seems about the only way to trace a shotgun killing was by the marks on the shells left by the ejector and the firing pin. I could pocket the used shells from the over and under without hunting for them in the dark as might be necessary with a pump gun.
I had to add a couple of hundred bucks to the card in order to pay for all items but they were well worth it.
Middle aged clerk at the register: That’s a lot of fire power for a little lady like you.
I should have commented on the need to protect myself from fat bald Walmart employees. But I didn’t.
Me: Gifts for my Brother and his family. (Sure it was a lie, but so what.)
The cabin came furnished, if you could call it that. The bed was a small metal cot with open wire springs and a too soft foam mattress. It was definitely some kind of modern torture device. The power came from the local co-ops grid, so I had wires for that but nothing else tied me to civilization.
Realtor: Landlines are not available, but everyone has a cell phone these days anyway. Since you have electric power, you can always get a satellite dish. They are big around here. There is a WiFi hot spot at a truck stop on the highway. You know to check your email.
It sounded close enough to being off the grid to let me disappear. At least for the year I figured it needed for all that bullshit about the American Foreign Legion to blow over. So I took the place I paid $38,000 for the one large room cabin. It had a beautiful porch, since it sat right on the water. From that porch I could also fish, if I were so inclined. The place came with an acre of land. It was my plan to poach, if I wanted to hunt. So the small amount of land didn’t bother me at all. I had never hunted in my life, but there was always the Internet as a learning tool.
The very first week I made careful measurements of the cot then had Home Depot cut me a piece of 1/2 inch plywood to hold the mattress. I didn’t remove the springs because I feared that if I did I would be sleeping on the floor. I had no idea what held the cot together. I had two very large pieces of plywood left over. They ended up nailed between the post of the shed. With the junkie look to the shed, the camp would fit in with the others along the edge of the Swamp
Juan: Cher, throw that net over the boat like I showed you.
Me: You are a terrible boss. (I did laugh as I said it) I may just go on strike.
Juan: If you go on strike, I hope you like to swim with the gators.
It was hard to be pissed since he had a huge toothless grin. I just smiled and threw the net over the side. He had pulled his boat into one of the many large branches that fed the swamp. The fish from the swamp passed in and out of the opening to feed in the stream. I had no idea if it was legal to gill net the branch or not. I also didn’t care. It was a small crime and Juan was the skipper, not me. It took only a few minutes to string the net.
Juan: You know Cher, I used to net twenty times that much swamp.
Me: So what happened?
Juan: I got old. That’s what always happens to people. You be careful you don’t get old.
Me: Some days I doubt I will make it to be old. Some others I think I am a survivor and will live forever like a cockroach.
I smiled because the conversation was one I might have had with a counselor, if I believed in their value. Juan also made me very comfortable. As he had said before, he was too old for games.
Juan: Cher, you goin’ to the dance at the community center on Friday?
Me: I hadn’t planned on it. You asking me for a date?
Juan: If it was a father / daughter dance I would. There are going to be a lot of men that work out on the water there. Be a chance for you to work the kinks out. (he wore another of those huge grins). You know shrimpers and oil men like to dance.
Me: I’m just going to stay home and play with myself on Friday.
Juan: What a waste. You a pretty girl, even if you be too skinny for some.
Me: Hey a woman can never be too skinny.
Juan: That might be true in Hollywood, but this here be the swamp. A woman needs to look healthy.
Me: I’ll remember that.
He took me back to the cabin with no mention of retrieving the net. I suspected that Juan wanted to grill me on the upcoming dance. He was most likely the Miss Sadie of the Cord Bayou.
I had been on the Swamp two months without a boat. I had fished mostly off my dock while reading spam on my mini pad. I hadn’t bothered with the Satellite TV or the Truck Stop WiFi. I just bought a comprehensive wireless plan. It had no limit Internet and cell service. I could have gotten by with ten minutes of cell phone a month since only the locals knew I was living on the swamp. They tended to stop by rather than call probably because I didn’t appear to be the chatty type.
On Friday to celebrate the community center dance, I got the hell out of the area. During the day I drove to New Iberia in search of a boat. I wanted one that would hold a trolling motor and fit inside my Wagon/SUV. What I bought was a 12 foot aluminum boat which was no wider than a Perot. It had a few built in float devices so that I couldn’t sink it, if I wanted. It was light enough that one man could, in theory, launch it.
Since I wasn’t one man, I bought a dolly with bicycle wheels. With the fancy dolly, I could roll it to the water then simply tip it in. The dolly had rollers on top so that the boat would roll easily into the rear of my car or into the water. The tall dolly had been made in the rear of the boat shop. They sold one with almost every small boat.
Two months and I still haven’t found a cafe within a bike ride of my cabin. I most likely will starve after the two months on the Ultimate Survival Diet. If I don’t find somewhere to eat around here by then, I thought.
Juan: How you feel about take away food?
Me: You mean like McDonalds? I asked it getting my hopes up.
Juan: Not that shit, real food. You just can’t stay there to eat it. The Parish Managers done decided that anybody can sell a few things from home. They just can’t be a sit down without a license. They never did say what a few things meant.
Me: I see. How many of those are there around here?
Juan: There be three but only one I recommend. Miss Jolee Marsh. You go down the county road toward New Awleans till you see a bright red mailbox. It will say Jolee on it. Pull in the drive and walk to the trailer in back that looks like a thermos bottle. You got to go in the morning.
Me: Like six in the mornings (I was excited again)
Juan: Cher you got to relax. You livin’ in the bayou now. We don’t do no business here that early. Go about eleven the first time.
It was a couple of days later that I got the urge for something besides rice and beans. The fishing off my pier hadn’t been very good lately. That was why at 11:30 I searched for and found Miss Jolee’s take away.
Me: Somebody told me I could get a decent bowl of soup here.
The very black lady about fifty pounds over weight: Don’t make no fancy soup. It all be gumbo. Different times got different things in it, but it always be gumbo.
Me: That sounds fine, could I get a quart?
Jolee: That be five dollars. There ain’t no tax since you be from Cord.
Me: I see word travels fast.
Jolee: Nothin fast about it. Your skinny white ass been here three months, bout time you showed up.
Me: Okay you got a menu?
Jolee: No menu just depends on what I feel likes cookin. You just ask and I tells you.
Me: What you sell in the mornings like for breakfast. I like to eat breakfast out.
Jolee: I open for lunch at eleven don’t do no breakfast. Don’t sell nothin past 3 PM so I can be home for my kids after school. I runs out a food about two so you need to be here before then, you want to get any.
Me: Yes ma’am. Could I buy biscuits to go?”
Jolene: If you be here before noon I usually have a few left till then.
Me: Okay I can work with that.
I paid and drove over the less than perfect pavement back to the main road. Jolee lived in a nice house beside the trailer. I figured the ‘take away’ business must be good.
Almost every morning after that for a while I was at the front gate when she opened. I usually got a bowl of gumbo and a couple of biscuits. Those I save to have early the next morning.
During that third month I got a call from the Walmart in New Iberia. The called to tell me my new tricycle had arrived and was ready to pick up. It came unassembled and in two boxes. I figured that would be the best way to transport it with the closed in SUV.
Young Store Clerk: You got somebody to put that together?
I figured he wasn’t offering to come over for dinner to do it, since I was at least twice his age.
Me: I’ll find someone.
Clerk: We can put it together while you wait for free.
Me: It will fit in my car better if it is still in the box, but thanks for the offer.
After purchasing a set of wrenches and screwdrivers I left the store. That night I very slowly and very carefully assembled the black recumbent trike. There was a lot of installing things then uninstalling them to do it right. In the end it was finished, but it was too late to do more than ride it up and down the dirt driveway.
The next day after a meal of day old biscuits and Microwaved bacon, I rode it to the back door of Jolee’s Take Away.
Me: Good morning.
Jolee: You here mighty early I ain’t even opened the gate yet. What you want skinny white girl. (She was looking at the trike and smiling when she said it)
Me: I would like a quart of gumbo and three biscuits and some of your hush puppies.
Jolee: You like fried pies skinny white girl?
Me: Is there anyone it the world who ever said no to that?
Jolee: (laughed) Now that you mention it no one ever has. I got a bunch of fried apple pies if you want one.
Me: Sure thanks. (I guess it didn’t come out like I thought.)
Jolee: You gonna have to pay. This ain’t no soup kitchen. Specially not for no skinny white girl.
Me: Yeah I expected that.
I left with my brown paper bag in the basket of the tricycle. I was back on the county road and about half way home when some jerk flew by me in a pick up truck. He yelled curses at me as he cut me off way too close for comfort.
I fumed about that jerk all the way home. By the time I got home I had worked myself into a real state. I didn’t get over it, I just got more and more angry. Finally after I ate some of the reheated gumbo several hours later, I decided I should do something about it. I went to the Rod and Gun shop out on the highway.
Once I was inside the converted country store, and stood before the old man with the long gray beard, I thought how much he looked like one of those guys on TV dressed in the camo clothes.
Clerk: What can I do for you?
He wasn’t smiling at all and he didn’t seem especially happy to see me.
Me: Well I was riding my bike this morning and some jerk in a pickup blew by me and shouted some obscenities. I began to worry about what happens, if next time he decides to come back.
Clerk: They might get dicey. So what you want from a gun shop.
Me: I was thinking a single shot twelve gauge cut down to fit on the trike.
Clerk: I ain’t got nothin like that, but I do have a kid’s 20 gauge that I took in on a trade. Now that is one safe shotgun you have to cock a hammer to fire it. Some places you can’t alter the stock, but Louisiana ain’t one of them. The whole shotgun has to be a little over two feet.
He reached behind him to hand me the shotgun. It was already a little small even for me. Still it looked solid and the hammer required a stout pull to cock it. I broke it down like a double barrel and it looked really clean. It didn’t appear to have been used much.
Me: Let’s talk price.
I really didn’t care that much what it cost, but I just didn’t want to feel like he was screwing me just because I was a woman either. Honestly that truck’s driver had me in a pissy mood.
Clerk: I can do the work and have it ready for you tomorrow. It will cost you a hundred bucks to buy it as is. Then another hundred to have it modified. I do guarantee it will be legal. Finding a place on your bike to carry it is up to you.
Me: Throw in a box of number 4 shot and it’s a deal.
I was out the door and on the way home in the truck, when I began to think about what all could have happened that morning. Trike or truck it might not have ended well. That’s when I decided to carry the over and under in the SUV. I could have a lock installed so it went with me. Those good old Cajun boys could fuck me up as much as the people with scores to settle.
Me to no one: Dead is just fucking dead.
I got home that afternoon and ate a chocolate Moon Pie and drank a cup of coffee. Then I rolled the cart with the bicycle tires, and the boat tied to the top it, from the shed. It was about thirty feet to the swamp. The cart made it possible to store the boat out of the water.
When I got to the edge of the pier, I rolled the cart onto the pier. I had to untie the boat, then lock the bicycle wheels in place, so the cart would tip slowly allowing the boat to launch.
I returned the cart to the rundown shed, before I unplugged the battery pack. I carried it along with the trolling motor and paddles to the boat. Within ten minutes I was on the water. It was slow going with the trolling motor, but it suited me fine.
It took me fifteen minutes to get to the branch where Juan and I had strung his net. I figured there might be a stray pan fish around that branch. I wanted to have some protein with my rice that evening. I had already eaten the gumbo. I tried to keep the amount of sugary foods to a minimum, so I skip the temptation of more moon pies. It took me about five minutes to land two good sized perch. With them in the boat, I turned about and hummed my way home. I wasn’t out to empty the swamp, just get supper.
Early on I had found a food mill in a cabinet drawer. It took a week to figure out what it was for. I found the base plate for it on the fish cleaning station. After I cleaned and dressed out the fish removing as much bone as I could, I tossed the two much smaller perch bodies into the food mill with a little corn muffin mix. The machine spit out a fish paste after being cranked by hand. I fried it up in a cast iron pan. The previous owner’s idea of a stove was a poorly constructed brick grill fitted with a propane gas ring.
The fish cake was delicious with the high spiced rice and beans. Those two along with the hush puppies made a huge meal for me. In only three months I had been converted to a faux coon ass.
I went to bed early since I didn’t have much to do. I didn’t have a TV and I really didn’t want to watch the news again. Old TV shows on line could hold my attention for only a few minutes.
I was up early so that I could use the fancy mini tablet to check my email and the news on line. By 8 AM I had eaten the day old biscuits with sausage from a commercial pack. I used the microwave since I didn’t want to waste a fire on precooked sausages. The one thing I couldn’t do was make bread in the microwave. I was tempted to buy a toaster oven and I might yet, I thought.
I took the trike out for a ride before I pulled into the Take Away. I had probably ridden ten miles on the heavy, slow tricycle. It might be heavy and slow but it was good exercise.
“Me: Did you make apple pies today?
“Jolee: No apple but I got a pretty good chocolate. It ain’t none of that pudding shit. It’s real chocolate.
Me: Then add one of those to my order. I’m going to pass on the gumbo today.
Jolee: I got some powerful good beef stew.
Me: I think I’m stewed out. I’m going over to New Iberia for some groceries today. I think I want some hamburgers.
Jolee: Skinny white girl I ain’t your buddy. I just sell you take away.
She had a certain contempt in her voice. Maybe I needed to go to that Friday night dance after all. If I couldn’t make friends, maybe I could find a friend.
I left the Take Away with the chocolate fried pie and a half dozen biscuits. I decided not to buy from Jolee for a while.