Wednesday, May 21, 2008


ALBERT GYPSUM SAT upon a piece of driftwood down on the batture of the Mississippi river among the tall weeds and weeping willows that grew there. The solitude of that narrow strectch of wilderness between the man-made levee and the river appealed to him. He could hear the occasional vehicle as it rumbled past on the old highway but he was hidden from view and nobody bothered him. He had three old cane poles set out in a shady spot where the water ran deep near the shore between a stand of bald cypress and a couple of Chinese tallow trees. The hooks were baited with small pieces of chicken gizzards that he carried with him in a yellow and blue plastic bread bag. In truth he could have baited the hooks with anything, even spittle, because he was after catfish and those scavenging bottom-feeders weren't picky. Nowadays people told him that he shouldn't eat fish pulled from the river because of the pollution but he still ate what he caught, mostly hard-head cats. And those suckers were big and meaty, healthy looking. Albert had eaten them all his life; they tasted fine enough when seasoned and cooked properly. His wife Cherry was one hell of a cook. Lord have mercy, the woman could bitch and moan enough to fray any man's nerves. He shook his head and looked heavenward in mock atonement. Still, he admitted to himself that she had good qualities and baked creole catfish with tomatoes, shrimps and okra was one of them. Cherry and Pearlie both knew their way around a deep-fryer. Man, they fried those catfish fillets to a golden perfection. On Fridays the smell permeated all through the trailer court and beyond. They weren't at all greasy, you could plunk those suckers into your mouth with a little tartar sauce and they melted away like butter. But damn it all, he couldn't taste much of anything since he lost his taste buds. But he still had his memory of the flavor. And that, at least, was something.

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