A journal of narrative writing.
Like in a Western
Page 3

* * *

In one of his grandfather’s stories on the way down, Mink heard the funniest things ever told about Ike Corprew. Orin still tells it with a wide grin on his face. You have to go back to the early 1950s, when men like Orin were just back from World War II – and had yet to leave for Korea. Ike was maybe six.

The family (Ike’s mother is still alive, not even aware of the cancer that will soon take her life) takes one of its Saturday drives to the beach at Kitty Hawk. The only way onto the barrier islands then was by ferry. They squeezed about thirty cars onto each trip across the Currituck Sound.

Some folks would fish during the ride.

“It was less’n an hour’s ride, is what I remember,” Orin says to Mink.

Orin and his wife, Donna, are holding hands at the guardrail, watching pelicans and seagulls and osprey glide above the brown-green chop of the sound. Till everyone starts to holler and someone blows a horn.

Orin says he turned to look just as Ike drives a showroom-new Cadillac off the end of the ferry and plops it in the water.

“I jumped in and held on to the bumper, waiting for it to sink,” the old man says wistfully. “But we just drifted south, toward Manteo, for an hour or two, till the Coast Guard showed up in a boat.”

Mink has a million questions and doesn’t know which one to ask first.

“Cot me six-thousand dollars,” Orin sniffs. He says it cost nearly as much to pay for repairs to the ferry as it did to replace that Virginia man’s Cadillac.

“But that’s when I learned something about your daddy,” he goes on, pointing out the windshield now, like a preacher. “That was the day I learned that Ike is constituted like a Kamikaze pilot. Without fear. And dangerous because of it.”

Mink tells Ike the story as they sit around a picnic table outside, under a leafless tree. Ike rubs at his eyes and smiles, but he looks real tired. The brown stain the sun gives his face, neck and arms is fading with each day of incarceration. He says it is him and a few other fellas who are the ones who don’t go outside that often.

“Violent offenders,” he whispers, picking at his hands.

Orin frowns and says nothing.

“Who else is in here, daddy?” Mink asks, squinting up at his father.

Ike shrugs. “Drunks, fornicators, thiefs, hopheads, cheats, bums and coloreds.”

“When is you getting out?”

Ike shrugs again but says he hopes it is soon. Christmas or just after the new year. Orin spits in a paper cup he has brought outside and says it is time to address the facts. He says Ike is serving two years in prison, and he has another year at least to serve – given good behavior or not.

Ike wipes his face again.

“It’s a long time either way,” Orin says. There is a buzzer which goes off and men on the far end of the yard wander out of a string of bunkhouses.

Orin spits in the cup. He says he is putting Mink into a Christian school. For the rest of the year at least. He says any good Southern boy needs bible studies along with proper education.

Ike pulls out a cigarette and lights it, lets blue smoke hover before his face. He asks who is helping Orin with the boy.

“Mary,” Orin says. He gives Mink’s head a rub. Ike grins and rubs his knee.

“Claude and Mary is good people,” he says of his cousins who, being born-again, have fallen out of touch with Ike for years, since high school. Ike points a finger at his father and holds it, trembling slightly.

“He is to keep learning how to ride,” Ike instructs. “I mean bulls and rodeo horses. Make a note that I told your granpop you is to ride bulls, Mink.”

The boy nods and tries his hand at spitting in the dry grass at his feet. He rubs at the dribble he’s made with the heel of his boot, his favorite riding boots.

“This one’s the best of the bunch,” Ike smiles at Orin. “Ya’ll best be good to this one, cause when he’s famous on TV you’ll have folks ask if you know him. If you and Mink Corprew is related.”

There is another buzz and more men stroll out into the yard. For the first time, the light – the long shadows – gives away the late hour of the afternoon. Ike looks at his watch, a rodeo prize.

“Time is about gone,” he says flatly.

Orin spits in his cup and gazes over the men who have come out for Sunday exercise before supper. He might see one or two men who are smiling.

“It will be over and done with before we know it, and you’ll be home again, son,” he says.

* * *

His Aunt Mary could not be any more different than Aunt Shay. She is a tiny woman, quiet, who wears a type of flowery embroidered uniform around the house all day. When in the kitchen, she puts on an apron with almost identical embroidery. She wears huge reading glasses on a chain, but she is not old. When she smiles at Mink, which is often, it warms his heart.

He helps her feed the dogs before the bus comes to take him off to Mount Gilead Christian Academy. She is all business about it, fussing at the ones which get too eager, too early.

“When is old Madge gonna birth her puppies?” he asks. Madge is an arthritic yellow lab who is currently penned by herself, next to the others, but will not come out of her box till after she has had the puppies.

“Any day, hon,” Mary says as she scolds a bird dog named Max who tries to nose out of the gate as she is closing it.

“Can I name one? One of Madge’s pups?”

She gives Max a pet on the nose through the fence.

“You may. So long as it is a Christian name.”

“Oh,” Mink says. His mind is being filled with all there is to know about Christian things, and he has yet to sort it all out.

“Can I name him Jesus? If Madge has a boy?”

Mary stops what she is doing and stares at him. Over his shoulder the white bus rolls between the oaks and starts flashing its lights at the end of the lane.

“Honey,” she says, “your bus is here.”

When he gets home, Mink is still thinking about it. He asked a buddy at school what he thought and his buddy said Jesus is an all right name for a dog. He wants to make sure he has his name in the pot before Claude or somebody chimes in with a name.