Mort sipped a beer in his dented trailer, the floor littered with lottery tickets and shattered dreams. Something crawled across the table unnoticed.
Mason burst in then, tripping as usual on the top step. “Hi, Uncle Mort! You ready?”
Mort lifted a cigarette and sucked deeply before turning to his nephew. That kid — so dang perky and always going on about Jesus. If he wasn’t my sister’s boy …
“Yeah, yeah, kid. I’m ready.” He couldn’t remember why he’d agreed to take Mason fishing for the weekend.
“I already put my stuff in your truck,” he grabbed Mort’s gear from the small pile in the corner. “Is this all you got?”
Mort nodded, snuffing the butt and downing the beer. Why’d he have to smile so much?
Mason rushed outside as Mort peeled himself from the sofa. He shuffled to his door and grunted down the three steps that led to the rest of creation. A full minute later he reached the driver’s side of his pick-up. Mason stood there holding up a small card. “Can I drive?”
“What you got there?”
“My license! Got it yesterday.”
Mort didn’t feel like focusing and took his word for it.
“So … can I drive?”
“Sure, kid.” Might be nice to relax and catch a wink on the way to the lake. Mason seemed no fan of silence and his inquisitive nature coupled with pitted roads meant Mort barely closed his eyes at all.
Mason stole only periodic glances at his passenger during the drive, ensuring the integrity of his “10 and 2” grip on the steering wheel. “Uncle Mort, can I ask you something?”
Question number 3,012 … sure, go ahead. “What, boy?”
“Why didn’t you marry?”
Mort coughed a spell and laughed. “What?”
“I mean, don’t you ever get lonely?”
“Nope. The way I see it, women love two things: yackin’ and naggin’. Besides, the kind of women ‘round these parts aren’t worth looking at for more than a few hours.”
“What about … family?”
“Family wasn’t my thing. That was Sheila’s dream.”
Mason stifled a cough and lowered his lids at the mention of his mother. For a brief moment, silence rode with them.
Mort fidgeted. “So, M-Mason. How’s your Pa holdin’ up?”
“Oh, he’s …” the light in his eyes flickered, “he’s alright.”
“Always liked your Pa.”
“Her suffering took a toll on him.” Mason sat taller and worked up a smile. “But, praise God, all that’s over. She’s in glory now with Jesus.”
Mort nodded quietly so as not to spark a religious discussion. He knew how those Christians loved to work that stuff into conversations. But Mason seemed content and the interrogation took off in other directions.
They reached Mort’s favorite fishing hole by lunchtime. Hidden by a maze of foreboding trees, a small peninsula jutted out onto the bluest water on earth. The ground dropped steeply just off shore, and they fished barefoot, dangling toes in the cool water. Plush grass carpeted their every step and the air hung heavy with peace and a purity that made Mort forget his headaches. Amidst such splendor, even he worked hard to deny the existence of God.
That evening, they built a fire and the smell of smoke and fish soon filled their camp. Mort figured this was as close to heaven as he’d ever get.
Mason, waiting for his fish to cool, coughed and reached into his pack to retrieve a pill. He downed it without a word, peeking sheepishly at his uncle. Mort knew that look. And he knew that sound. It was Sheila’s cough.
“You still playing baseball, boy?”
Mason blew on his food. “No. I … I kinda got a lot on my plate this year and I mean to focus more on my studies.”
Watching his nephew, Mort’s heart swelled unexpectedly. Flickering flames sent flashes across Mason’s face, illuminating a tranquility that seemed out of place. What does he have to smile about?
As the fire died down, the light around Mason seemed to intensify and Mort could not reclaim his gaze. Radiating from his nephew was something far more intoxicating than the beer by his side, and Mort had the overwhelming sense Mason knew something he didn’t.
“Hey, I got that chili cookoff in Sussex next weekend but, what you say, want to go fishing again the week after?”
Another silent prayer rose as Mason chewed his perfect fish. There was hope for his old uncle yet.
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