So I am in shock, Creepers, total shock. My last posting from “101 Portraits of My Father” actually received comments. So here’s more, fishing for feedback (talking to you, Illian). Of http://illianrain.com/ fame.
Chapter 13, High Priest
My father said he was a fisherman. He always followed the solunar calendar. He’d pull out a fishing almanac. He’d show us the articles and say, “This is the solunar calendar, this will show when the fish will bite.” My mother, not really caring about fish too much, came to accept his comings and goings whenever he said it was time to go fishing.
Now I myself as I got older was starting to catch the fishing bug and wanted to go with him. My father wouldn’t take me on every trip. My mother would try to get my father to take me along. If he didn’t want me to go, he had endless excuses. Like, “He’s too small, he’ll make too much noise in the boat.” “We don’t want him to fall out of the boat and drown.”
But when I got bigger and was able to follow these things myself, I’d try to get ready by reading the solunar calendar myself. Sometimes when you’d think he’d have gotten up to go fishing he didn’t. Other times when you’d think he wouldn’t because the fishing would be terrible, he would. So I took to getting up and laying down by their bedroom door. After he yelled at me and wouldn’t let me sleep there, I’d put paper out in the hall where he would scuff it as he walked. It was the only kind of alarm a boy of my age could think of.
So one night he got up the paper made a noise in the hall. He swore softly, and it woke me up. My father was leaving. I followed him out, and off he went to the shed. He got his fishing gear and a big bag. He walked down to the river. He looked back over his shoulder, right at me, and I ducked behind a tree, my heart beating. He kept walking and he went to the dock, smoking a cigarette in the dark as he waited, his pole off on the side.
I crept up and hid behind a mulberry bush. Soon I heard an engine coming, and as the boat came near one of the men on the boat cried out, “We brought the fish!”
Dad just barked out, “You’re late,” and gestured at the moon, “The hour is nigh!” The men reached off the boat and pulled him in, then backed up and took off. They took him right across the river to an inlet that was out of sight, and I heard the motor cut out. They must have been stopping at the old Wainwright farm.
I snuck over to our old skiff and quietly rowed across in the dark and tied up at a stump out of view of the dock. Soon a few more boats pulled up, and then some beat up old cars and pickups starting arriving through the front gate. That was down Wainwright Road, which by then was subdivided into rented hay fields and Christmas tree farms. No one lived there anymore. The men killed the lights and closed the car doors quietly.
They all went to the old barn, which hadn’t been painted in many a year, but I recall was holding up pretty well to the elements. Trees and shrubs had grown up around it, but as you got closer you could see lights glowing through small chinks in the walls. You couldn’t see anything from the street on account of the cypress trees old man Wainwright had planted up and down the driveway and in front of the farm. They were big and thick. Old man Wainwright having planted them before Charlie Wainwright was shot and killed in Korea and the old man quit keeping up the farm.
There was a long tractor ramp going up to the far side, with a double door to take the tractors in and out. I took off my shoes and walked up the ramp barefoot and looked through a knothole in the door. Inside was whitewashed, with symbols and signs all over the ceiling and walls. These are symbols I had seen in old books that my father had up on his shelf. The books were mostly in German and Latin, sometimes in a crazy scribble of letters that David Levinson said were Hebrew. Someone had also made a stage on the dirt floor in the middle, raised up with a kind of altar on it. There was a buzz of voices punctuated with the bleating of goats and the clucking of chickens.
My Dad was over in a corner, eyes closed, looking relaxed as he stood there. He opened his eyes, and I swear he looked right at the hole in the door where I was. But then he glanced at his watch, took a robe down off a peg on the wall, and pulled it on. He clapped his hands together loudly over his head, and everyone quickly took their places. Some also pulled on robes, though most did not.
I watched and listened, as my father led some kind of responsorial and several chants in a language I did not understand. A man stripped to the waist limped up, carrying a rooster and a bag. He kneeled in front of my father and laid a bunch of things I could not see on the altar in front of him. My father took the rooster by the neck, and shouted what sounded like a prayer in the strange tongue, and just like that cut the rooster’s head off over the man. I could not look away. As the blood sprayed over the man kneeling in front of my father, the man cried out and fell to the ground as if he had been knocked out. A few men gently dragged the fellow to the side and laid him on a pile of straw. They gave the rooster to one of the man’s friends, who began to pluck the chicken with his eyes closed, rocking and mumbling to himself. As another man led a bleating goat up the stage, I ran off, heart racing and head spinning.
I found the row boat and sculled back across the river as fast as I could, not bothering to even try to be quiet after I reached the halfway point. At times I could hear some voices or chanting drifting across the water and I didn’t think they could hear me, but I also didn’t care. I lay in bed awake for hours, heart slowing down as my mind kept racing, until I finally drifted off. The shock was so severe I got a fever and ended up in bed for 3 days. Whenever my Dad came in to check on me I wouldn’t talk to him much, just tell him that I needed my sleep.
When the fever passed, so did the emotion tied to my memories of that night, although even today I can still see the blood arcing from the rooster’s neck and dousing the hair and skin of the shirtless man.