Beneath the Deep, Slow Motion

By Barkley, Brad | The Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Beneath the Deep, Slow Motion


Barkley, Brad, The Virginia Quarterly Review


Early morning, and Clarendon starts like a wind-up toy-- cotton and rice farmers machining the Delta soil, jackhammers breaking the streets downtown. Bosco is talking, too much and too loud, finding no difference between nighttime talk and daytime, between drunk and sober. Along the shore, the streetlights blink out all at once. For the second time that morning, Bosco talks about killing Leo Myer.

"We could, Ray," he says, sober a moment. "You know we could."

Ray feels something shift when the words are said, feels that slow, familiar movement toward trouble.

"Always running off at the goddamn mouth, Bosco," Ray says, laughs it off. "Ought to wrap it with duct tape instead of this."

Ray waves his 12 gauge, its stock covered in greasy tape, then shoves the barrel under the river's surface and pulls the trigger. The muffled whomp boils downward, jarring his bones, the water exploding upward in a rain of mud and algae. Bubbles rise with the blood and mangled remains of a carp. Ray nets the fish from the water, tosses it in the cooler. Later, he will grill it over hardware cloth with potatoes wrapped in tinfoil, and they will pick out like bones from the flesh the tiny lead pellets, spitting them into the currents.

"You say that 'cause you know I'm right," Bosco says, his smile cutting thin, framed by the mustache that edges his mouth. They have been up all night, drinking beer and shooting carp. Ray switches off the lamps that float in the shallows. The carp move in shadows across the pebbly bottom. Bosco finishes his chocolate milk, drops the carton and stomps it, making Ray jump.

"About all I know is you're a kid, Bosco," Ray says. "A 35-year-old goddamn kid." Bosco shrugs and drinks, his shirtless chest bony and sunken.

They stand on the deck of Bosco's houseboat, which once served as a repair barge and welding deck for BG Ironworks until it ran on a shoal in the middle of the Arkansas River, 50 yards downstream of the railroad trestle outside Clarendon. Permanent as an island now, the boat holds as the river washes around it. Red-wing blackbirds balance on the rope that connects the barge to shore, the same rope that Ray and Bosco shinny across for groceries, liquor, and generator fuel. When Bosco finds women from town they shinny across with him, legs scissoring the rope, skirts gaping, Ray shining his flashlight on the whites of their thighs. The women squeal and curse Bosco for where he lives, curse the light and the oily rope, drunk and laughing while Ray holds his breath, waiting for them to slip and disappear forever beneath the deep, slow motion of the river.

Bosco lifts another beer from the plastic bag hanging in the current. The white scar from his surgery looks fresh still, lines stitched across his shoulder where the Jonesboro doctors removed the cancer. The indentations there form notches in the line of his shoulder, the flesh gouged and ridged. Ray looks at it, winces. After the surgery was when he began to spend all his time on the barge-not just Saturday nights-helping Bosco tie his shoes, cook his food, and, for a time, button his pants.

Bosco takes the gun, his mouth hanging open as he scans the water. They will shoot until the sheriff's deputy drives down to the river bank and hollers for them to call it a day.

"We better quit soon," Ray says.

"How much you think them diamonds are worth?" Bosco asks. "How easy would it be to walk in there, off the son of a bitch, and get out?" He drinks his beer and elbows Ray, starts humming the Jeopardy theme. Riffing off game shows is a stage in Bosco's drunkenness, lodged somewhere between vomiting and blacking out. After they have caught a day's haul of oysters, he will watch the shows on his little five-inch black-and-white, the cord for the TV running off the generator inside the cramped cabin of the barge, where he keeps his mattress, refrigerator, and the back issues of National Geographic he finds on the library free table and uses for kindling. …

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