As those of you who have been reading my blog know, I’m working on a novel that started out as a novella that started out as a short story. It’s a three part novel. The original novella, titled Bear Paw Road, is part two, and is a flashback to the protagonist’s last summer before his senior year of high school (you can read excerpts from Bear Paw Road here and here). The title (as of right now) for the novel is Between Two Rivers. I’ve been working on part one, in which the protagonist, Brendan, is grown, married and has children of his own. I’ve written six chapters so far. In this excerpt, chapter six, we meet Brendan’s eight-year-old twin boys, Kinley and Cameron. Also, as a side note, if you’ve been reading, you might recognize a couple paragraphs about the Nantahala River; I pulled them from this post and edited them for this chapter–because 1) that post will never be published elsewhere 2) they work well within the context of the chapter and 3) it’s my stuff and I can do that. So, here’s chapter six of part one of Between Two Rivers. Enjoy:
Kinley was casting the line, clumsily but with confidence, into a pool of the upper Nantahala. He hadn’t caught a fish yet, but he believed he would and that belief had kept him at the river’s edge with the pole in hand for a half-hour–longer than his typical attention span. And longer than his turn. Cameron had already taken his time of ten minutes and then busied himself upstream, stacking rocks and twigs and digging trails from the water’s edge to form micro-creeks.
The Cherokee had named the river Nantahala, but it’s likely the word hasn’t been pronounced correctly by anyone, including me, since before there were white-skinned fisherman with rods and reels, a National Forest, a Forest Service, Duke Energy, a hydroelectric plant or a Tennessee Valley Authority.
Whatever its pronunciation, it translates into land of the noonday sun or midday sun or something like that. The Nantahala carves through the Gorge of the same name, and the mountains stand dark and green on both sides, casting cool shadows on the gray curling waves, and when the sun is high the river glows an ambered copper. The upper Nantahala, where I brought the boys to fish, narrowed and became a creek with the loveliest waterfalls and pools and rounded swells of mossed boulders.
There any fish in here? Kinley asked.
Yeah, You’ll get one–just keep at it.
Ain’t seen none yet, he said.
Well they’re there. And don’t say ain’t.
Kinley held the pole in his right hand and reeled with his left, a little too quickly but not fast enough to need correcting. I wanted to get a fly-rod into his hands and had once, but he’d gotten too frustrated. The boy just wanted to catch a fish, and I wanted him to love the river and the idea of fishing. He’d take up a fly-rod in time, I was sure. Kinley finished reeling the line in and made another cast without my help.
You know, I said, a fella caught the state record in this river.
They state records in this river? he asked. Like music records?
I laughed. Are there, I corrected. No, it means a guy caught the biggest. No one in North Carolina has caught a bigger one. What do you think about that?
Kinley looked out at the river, still reeling. I’ll get a bigger one, he said.
I bet you will, I said. You just keep at it. I’m going to check on your brother. You holler at me if you get a bite. I put my hand on the back of his neck. It was soft and warm, and my hand could almost wrap around its slight circumference. I kissed the top of his head at the crown. Without complaining he reached up and tousled his own hair, still watching the line.
Cameron squatted in the gravel and mud of the bank. He had always prefered to work with his hands and with what he could see. He couldn’t see a bait and hook, invisible under the current, and so he didn’t trust it, nor did he have an interest in the uncertain waiting. I stepped up next to him and lowered myself as close to his level as I could. What you up to, bud? I said.
Working, he said.
Yeah? What you working on?
Making a village.
I could see it now. Small rocks and sticks carefully stacked and placed. Homes with trails between them, carved out with his index finger. A small creek divided his town–a trench he had dug with a short stick the size of my thumb. He was still working on it, and it ran to the river’s edge where a slight stream of water had been diverted to flow through the center of his small township.
Looks good, I said. Does it have a name?
He shrugged his shoulders, kept working. Not yet–gotta finish first, he said.
You want some help? I asked.
He shook his head. I can do it, he said.
Alright, bud. Let me know what you decide, though–on the name. I want to see it when you’re done, too.
He wasn’t a somber child but when he engaged himself in what he considered work, he became serious. Building a village was serious business, and he would behave appropriately. But he smiled in spite of himself.
I stood back where I could watch both boys. Kinley and Cam were twins but not identical, though people had often mistaken them as such. They were redheads, but of a deep rusty hue–a trait they’d inherited from me. The boys were as pale as a peeled potato and only in the past year had the sun started to pepper their skin with freckles. They had been premature as many twins are–a month early–and they were smaller than most boys their age. Kinley and Cam were healthy, though, and they wanted to be strong, so they were in their own way.
I got it, Kinley yelled. Dad.
Kinley had tightened both hands on the pole, pulling his elbows close to his body, but he didn’t reel–just held. I rushed over and reached to help but stopped myself.
You got him, bud–just reel. Reel him in, buddy.
My arms were in the the act of a frozen hug–no contact but ready to grab and catch if needed. Kinley reeled, haltingly and with the end of the pole dipping into the water.
Lift the pole, now. You’ve got him.
He lifted a few inches and kept his hand spinning at the reel. As the end of the line moved closer the fish broke the surface with an arch and splash, and I could tell it was small.
Look at him–I got that son of a bitch, he said. And before I could upbraid he lifted the pole just enough to bring the small brown trout to the bank where it flexed and popped its body against the graveled, dark sand.
I pulled the needle-nose pliers from my pocket and reached down to take its slick body in my hand. The trout was only about five or six inches and its gills pulsed, its eye wide and staring.
You going to cook it, Dad? It was Cam. I hadn’t noticed until then that he’d stopped his construction to watch.
No, we let these little guys go. He’s still got some growing to do–like you. We’ve got to let you get bigger before we cook you up.
He rolled his eyes.
I reached down with the pliers and pinched the base of the hook. It was clean through the corner of the lower lip, and it came out easy with a small pop at the barb. I rested it’s body back into the current where it rushed with a soft and slick brush against my palm and vanished.
I got that son of a bitch, didn’t I? Kinley said again.
Where’d you hear that? I said.
I hadn’t been angry, but his face lost its exhilaration. Uncle Joseph, he said.
I nodded. Well, you tell Uncle Joseph he shouldn’t say that, I said and then, but yeah, you got him, Big Fisherman.
His smile returned. Did I get a state record?
No. But you got a Kinley record. How about that?
He looked at the river and then nodded.
I turned my sight upstream to where Cam had returned to his work.
Is is done yet? I yelled.
Nope, he said without turning.
You want to keep trying for that state record? I said to Kinley.
Yeah, but you try, he said.
I picked up the pole, replaced the lure and made a cast.