“My grandmother,” I announced, “used to heat up plates in the oven, but we ate from hot plates in a cold room. Jorgine said it was good for the appetite.”
“Your-keena?” asked Bob, as I kissed his forehead. He grabbed my hand impulsively, held it to his cheek as I slipped down onto the chair beside him. “This was your grandmother did that? Name of ‘your-keena’?”
“My father’s mother. She came from Denmark at the turn of the century. She used to close the old room off – wouldn’t let anyone open it. Then she’d have us carry in food. Last of all we’d bring in the hot plates from the oven.”
Frank staged a momentous shiver. “All my people were sane,” he muttered.
“You got all the bad blood,” Bob told him.
Frank stepped to the table, his spatula heavy with trout ready to join their cousins on the big plate. The fish lay there on their sides, steaming and golden brown, their eyes wide, their sparkling colors just slightly muted. “I’m missing a gun show today,” complained Frank, “slaving at this hot stove feeding you two ungrateful jokers. Got to get another thirty-thirty a guy’s wanting to sell. Then sonny-boy needs a twenty-two small gun for target practice.”
“Siddown,” ordered Bob. “I told you five-six times, we won’t eat until you siddown. Fish will be cold and the damn salad will be warm and the beer is getting stale, and it’s your fault for not sitting down, you lousy, Hun.”
One thing, it would be sad to get into lingering conversation about firearms, and then probably advancing toward the subject of hunting season, the dates this year, and hunting seasons from bygone years, and from there on into close calls and hunting screw-ups. I had to head it off, corral Bob into food talk. Bob had lost his interest in hunting but still kept a supply of stories to compete with Frank’s. I’m not fond of guns (except they are works of art), and I can’t bear to capitulate to the steamrolling fascination for the phallic-shaped tool of death. I have met too many overbearing people whose lives center on the acquisition and preservation of innumerable firearms. I have seen too many bumper stickers reeking of arrogance: “My wife? Yes. My dog? Maybe. My gun? Never” from guys with big stomachs built by loving wives. To me a gun is like a car: necessary if you need it. And I won’t even discuss an average gunman’s political stance.
“You are the world’s leading cook, Frank,” I said.
“I wonder if I got the biggest one done enough,” Frank fussed. Cooking brought out his neurosis.
“Everything is wonderful, the best you ever done,” Bob yelled. “Siddown right now. Siddown!”
“Remember the first time we went out to Otter Creek, Putz?” Frank asked me. Putting the biggest fish onto his own plate, to protect us, I suppose, from the crime of Underdone. “Beavers had built dams and the whole swamp was flooded,” he said to Bob, “and she waded right in behind me; but see, I had waders on and she didn’t Up to her neck she went. But she didn’t say a word. Never said a word.”
The trout was pink inside, sweet, moist, pink meat. We dripped lemon onto it from a split lemon. I had made a big wooden bowl full of coleslaw with onions and green peppers and a couple of apples. “Wonder what the poor people are eating tonight,” said Bob.
“It’s difficult to think or talk when the food is so good,” I said. If the meal had been served at Frank’s place, he would have invited at least three other men, that was certain. Frank threw two dinners during the year – one for his work buddies and the other for his tavern friends. It cost him big money to make the extravagant expression of close-knit brotherhood. He would always make new friends indiscriminately, accepting any personality flaws. An occasional new friend would steal from him or freeload from his refrigerator or his liquor cabinet, with very little grousing from Frank.
He finished his third beer and left for the bathroom. There were still five trout on the platter. They were excellent, too, even cold.
Bob scraped back his chair and lit a cigarette. “George!” he called out. “How’s it going? How’s the world treating you? Frank was mad as a wet hen atcha. You should have heard him. I figgered whatever it was, he had it coming for a long time. He thinks he’s got the goods on you. He claims Milo’s been delivering to this place, more than hay.”
“Came over to get paid off, the night I talked to him before we went to Otter Creek,” I said, putting the cover onto the shrimp sauce. “I think Frank’s coming back down from it now, hasn’t he?”
“I like Milo all right,” Bob said, not hearing. “He’s a pretty good egg. He’s been around, covered a lot of ground, don’t have too many guys sore at him. He’s got a kind of reputation.”
“He talks nice,” I said. “He has good eyes. He listens.”
“That’s what I meant to say,” Bob nodded, squinting through his smoke. “A reputation with women. You know what I mean.”
“And my reputation, how about that?” I asked. Probably Frank could hear through the door. I could not whisper when I wanted to get through to Bob. “And you other guys, are you all squeaky-clean when it comes to old-boys’ tales?”
Bob laughed. “Yah, yah, yah,” he said, shaking his head, giving up easily. “When we going trouting again, George?”
“Tomorrow afternoon? I was going to bring that up.”
“Honest? Where you think – Sawmill? I’ve had enough of that boggy stinkin’ swamp at Otter Creek. Can’t handle that no more. Break my back in them damn holes.”
“Sawmill,” I mused. “That’s the place where you wade in, take off your shoes…you can see the bottom, you can watch the suckers go after your bait, water clear as the sky. It’s like in the early days when the fish were tame. They weren’t even afraid. Think of that.”
“Yah,” answered Bob. “And there’s trout in there too, take my word. And it’s closer than Otter. You still want to buy worms? Worms are gettin’ hard to find: no rain.”
“Yes. I love that place. If we catch a bunch of suckers, we’ll talk Frank into grinding them for fish patties. Oh, I can almost taste them.” I stood up and started collecting the silverware.
“Now you got three more nights, ain’t it?” asked Bob, as Frank appeared. “Where you get all that time off?”
“From working like a fool extra days.”
“We fish tomorrow morning?” asked Frank, popping a fresh beer.
“Bulk truck comes tomorrow,” I said, “I’ll clean the tank right away in the morning and have that done. It’ll be seven-thirty. We’re talking about Sawmill.”
“I heard,” said Frank.