Fiction by David Portz
After my daughter shipped out, I moved from Tennessee to Texas. But before I switched states, I built a canoe with wood from a guy who worked at the George Dickel distillery. He sold me oak staves from burst whiskey casks, which I shaved down and shaped. When it was done the boat was aromatic and intoxicatingly beautiful.
I planned to get a rude cabin on an isolated lake. I found one with crackly linoleum – a square room with screened porch in a remote part of Lake Caddo. I shot small game for stews. Most days I’d fish from my whiskey canoe. My beard came in white.
My daughter had been trying to finish college while living at home. Her home had me in it though -- it was my house. I kept coming her way for basic human interaction.
“We might have soup together,” I said sometimes, to her back. I made a pretty good soup. I had a grocery store back then for ingredients, crackers. She didn’t want to be at the table with me no matter what the crackers. Ritz, Saltines, Wheat Thins, it wasn’t going to happen. She said she had problems she wanted to keep to herself. She found some money on the kitchen table and dyed her hair Aqua. She said her college sucked and her car sucked and she didn’t have any clothes.
“There you are again.” she’d say, “at that table.”
She said she was leaving to join the merchant marine. I understand that’s towboats, tugboats, ferries … load carrying vessels. “Anything but a dredging operation,” she said. I took this to mean she thought I was always mentioning her past mistakes, and her mother’s.
The damnedest thing about the whiskey boat is it would not go straight. This was not at first so much a problem on Lake Caddo, made of bending bayous. I imagined the boat sort of fooled the fishes -- they thought there was no organized effort going on above, and took the bait. In fact above the surface my fishing was pretty serious. After the ammo ran out, fish is what I ate.
Some people said that my daughter took after her long-departed mother. Her long-departed mother went to New York. I admit there’s a strong resemblance. Her mother also believed she deserved better than what life handed her. I don’t know where the mother landed, because there’s different parts of New York. I heard that a person goes there and after the novelty, they settle in these burrows.
As time went on the whiskey boat’s errant nature got worse. The currents in the bayous of Lake Caddo weren’t strong or subtle but I just couldn’t paddle the boat straight. I’d end up clamped by cane in one place, marooned on marsh grass another - gnarled and sprawled on cypress knees, becalmed in clutches of bursting heart, lulled by lotus. Matters grew urgent athwart bladderwort. I’d get up momentum in that boat and it would haul me through shoals of thorns.
In Tennessee everyone knew me as a man with a drinking problem, anchored at the bottle on my kitchen table. The bottle may have been why my daughter set sail - chucking me overboard.
I began to think that the swamp water was reactivating my canoe’s whiskey molecules. There is no denying that there is such a thing as whiskey molecules. I can remember in Tennessee transparent bubbles of whiskey molecules popping in front of my eyes, rendering me speechless. Even during arguments. What broke my nose twice was whiskey molecules.
From strength of character and distance from liquor stores I got free of whiskey’s languors on Lake Caddo, except for that whiskey boat. Sometimes it wouldn’t even get me home by nightfall. Blubbering out there in that boat alone under gassy swamp lights. In a moonless night inside my own dark mind out there, instead of on our planet. On sodden islands – lunging wild hogs, bears, wildcats, porcupines, coyotes – shuddering through the air in front of me. Like the soundless owls of delirium tremens.
I got the notion to make an offering to get my daughter back - by setting the whiskey boat free. To that end I found a little skiff with oars and a trolling motor. I towed the whiskey boat quite a ways out on Lake Caddo, past fluted waters, dropping serpents, black perfumes. Before dropping the tow rope I asked the roiled sky for my daughter Celeste to come back. I said hell I hope her mother’s all right also. I loosed the whiskey boat and it did not immediately drift off, just sat there, mind of its own. The wind kicked up. We both drifted the same way. Then the whiskey boat charted course toward some tangled bald cypresses, accelerated.
Postscript. When I least expect, I see the whiskey boat in the remotest bends of bayous. Never the same place, day-to-day, week-to-week. My skiff’s trolling motor coughed itself to death; I row places, only just catching adequate fish. Some days I find myself simply looking closely at a green bedspread of salvinia, the orange flesh-elbows of cypress knees, forty minutes, an hour and a half. It’s dark with clouds, or when not the moon, at night. Nothing about this place is New York, or downtown Tullahoma, or a black muck dredging operation in Knox County, or a liquor store parking lot. Nothing about this place is my daughter - my green-headed daughter floating toward my screen porch for fish soup, in that whisky boat.
|The author, David Portz