Old Melvis Hassle was the youngest of his crowd, oddly enough, sort of the case study for a group of men who spent most mornings, afternoons, evenings—you name it—down by the river’s mouth, where the shallow creek turned from underneath the bridge. Everyone of them hated something more than the next—a political belief, the backaches that come with old age, goddamn Splenda overtaking society’s understanding of what a good spoonful of sugar tastes like. And, of course, the head-shaking hell that coincides with anything that brings reference to Mary Poppins, and what it can do to an old man’s soul.
Melvis was the worst, though. He hated the most, the acidity so vile, it was once said if you cut him open it would probably make for a nice glass of lemonade. He hated the weather, always. Raining on days when he wanted it to be dry. Dry as all get-out on days he shouted to the heavens while standing over a crop of dead tomatoes. He even hated the idea of sliced bread—the actual invention and the saying, alike—only using it to make dough-balls for catching the good-sized carp that populated his section of the Ohio River.
Yes, Old Melvis was the worst of all the old men down on the riverbank, a distinguished honor he took to heart—the spiteful pride that grayed him like a basket of forgotten peaches—even though he was only 47 years old.
Ta’ hell with it, he would say, to all of it. Even Friday night football was condemned; it was a raucous act of community that he saw no reason for, other than to promote sexual tensions between the youth. “Look where the quarterback sticks his hands for shit sakes…right there under his ass.” He wouldn’t have it, no love of sport—unless it was him attempting to shoot out the bright lights that highlighted the spectacle that it was. Melvis loved to shoot his gun.
One day, though, that love of gun, of bullet, his life of hate, came to a precipice of dreaming forever, the last stop of the heart as the light turns to the unknown—and he didn’t see it coming, on account he hated foresight and the future.
It happened back in August, a hot summer day, a normal day down by the river, the gentle wind sweeping from across the island, the smell of the honeysuckle touching the senses. The water level was low and made it difficult for fishing. Even the pools near the mouth of the river had dropped; sand bars now peaking up like camel backs.
“Too goddman shallow, as I see it!” Melvis shouted to Hartley Grimes, a fat man that spent most of his life blaming his shortcomings on the fact he had red hair. He once shot at a man because he offered him ginger snaps down by the deli. In 1987, he spent nine months protesting the “horrid, foul creation” that was the Wendy’s girl, and the rest of the year in a jail cell. It toughened him to take no man’s shit, he would always say.
Melvis made several casts of the dough-ball dipped in a brown liquid that smelled of tobacco and cow shit, a secret sauce he called “the mixture” that sent any and every carp into an orgasmic rush, their mouths open and pulsating like the prostitutes Melvis would visit during the first of the month. He saw them as nothing but an orifice, though, and felt no shame in his exploitation. He was the only man who hated the sensation of a climax. Hurts my goddman balls, he protested. Not worth the axle grease, if you ask me.
After his sixth cast, the frustration started to grow. “Nothing!”
“Let’s call it a day, Melvis. It’s too damn hot anyways,” Hartley said as he wiped the sweat from his brow. The sun beat down on them with relentlessness. Hammering at the skin on their foreheads—no sunscreen, either: that shit causes more harm than good.
“I tell you what, all dem carp are out’dare in that deep stuff.”
“That ain’t gonna do you a bit a good.”
“Why not, dammit?”
“‘Cause that current is too damn fast out there, and we ain’t got but two slices of bread left.”
“I’ll slice your ass, ya’ bastard.”
Melvis quickly popped up from his chair, staring with the hate of an executed inmate’s audience. Hartley had seen this before and quickly piped down, moving near the edge of the bank, using the shade of the bridge to cool himself and the situation.
Melvis didn’t waste much time with Hartley, though, his eyes now fixed on the middle of the river, his mind wandering. With each passing thought, he would spit a brown glob of tobacco juice, a yes/no subconscious habit that he would often do. On the fifteenth spit, his lips thinned and his nose flared—the closest thing to a smile you would see from him—and he turned to Hartley.
“Hey man, I don’t even need no goddamn slice-a fucking bread, I’ve got this.” Melvis reached down and picked up his 12-guage, his prize possession that he won in a tense game of Bullshit—he hated card games, too, but the idea of calling people’s bullshit made him feel a sense of pride. He was the best at it, like another sense no other human’s got, he would boast.
“How in the hell you gonna shoot fish from here? You can’t see ‘em.”
Melvis’s sixteenth spit told his hand, his intentions, and Hartley knew it.
“You can’t use that old thing, Melvis, it’s got holes in it. Said that yourself”
“That raft is as good as the goddman Titanic!” he shouted—Melvis hated to read, or hear anything about history. Only what he needed to, he snickered. “And besides, I only said that ‘cause I didn’t wanna take your fat ass on it.”
“Whatever, Melvis, that’s not a good idea. I’m sayin’, that’s all.”
Melvis was deaf to anyone’s warnings about anything—especially from Hartley Grimes—so he paid no attention to him. He softly counted out paces as he walked near an old campsite, just up from the fishing spot. “One.” “Two…”
Once he got to three hundred paces, he banked left and went to a weeded cropping near a thick bundle of trees. He bent and started rummaging. He tossed sticks and old beer cans, cussing the entire time, until he came upon his desired discovery. “A-ha!” He barked, holding up an old raft—fit for any toddler.
“Suit yourself, you crazy sonuvabitch.” Hartley shouted. He packed up his gear and headed toward the embankment near the bridge. Melvis pulled a small, thin whistle from his pocket and shouted: “If I get in trouble, I’ll just blow on this damn thing for help!”
Hartley stopped and turned to Melvis, a small frown draped over his face while he shook his head.
“You don’t listen very well, Melvis. You never did.” Hartley turned again and continued on his way. Melvis watched him slowly disappear from view—it would be the last time he ever glared an ounce of hate at Hartley Grimes, at anyone, really.
Melvis took little time inspecting the raft. The blue canvas was now a faded milky color, the holding ropes rotted and rust-colored from the drag on the metal hoops it was tied through. He brushed off some of the mud from the bottom and re-tied a knot on the rope in the front. Then he jumped on it several times to make sure it was seaworthy—he hated that he was wasting this much time.
He grabbed his shotgun and pushed off from the bank.
It took him the better part of a half-hour to make it to the middle of the river. The water felt warm—like a damn stream of piss, he thought—and was abnormally clear. But it was also moving more quickly than he expected. By the time he had reached what he thought was his destination, he had drifted downstream almost three-quarters of a mile. The water there was deeper, more so, and started churning like floodwaters. It took all of Melvis’s strength to keep the raft from tipping. Nature didn’t let up, either. He drifted farther. No stopping, not a person in sight. For every two feet up or down he went fifty feet sideways, continuing on past anything he recognized. It was a foreign land to him—he hated the idea of travel, so this far downstream could have been Louisiana, for all he knew—and it left him feeling a sense of helplessness—it was the first time he ever mumbled that word when it wasn’t directed at the man who would ask for quarters down by the track.
Melvis was in a bit of a pickle—a food, by the way, that he hated to the depths of hell, where it was created in the devil’s tears—and that foreign word, that helplessness started to increase. His paddling became more severe, his hands cutting through the water in a karate chop, his grunting like that of painful memories, a swift slap from the authoritative figures. The sides of the river were too steep, though, and fortified with concrete holding walls. Coming to a safe docking would be difficult. To make port would be a miracle—something he didn’t believe in.
To his victorious enjoyment, however, he did spot two carp—big ones, too. “Told ya’ Hartley, ya’ dumbass!” Melvis grabbed his gun and cocked it, pointing to where he saw the last flip of a fin, and then he pulled the trigger.
“Ah, shit!” he screamed. The current caused Melvis to lose his balance and the shot pierced the raft instead of its intended prey, and it began to sink.
Because he hated the idea of swimming, Melvis knew this was not an ideal position to be in. He flapped his hands and kicked his legs as the raft turned into a cloak around his body. In a panic, he called for help, but realized there wasn’t a soul around—and none of the crew would ever make it this way, never in a million years. Good for ‘em, too, looks like a shithole.
His hopes fading, he grabbed the whistle from his pocket and began to blow with all his might, understanding death was now in charge “Not yet, you damn bastard. Not me. And not now.”
Melvis continued to blow on the whistle, faster and more intense, with such force he didn’t realize there wasn’t any sound coming from it. Nothing. He blew again and again, while he sank deeper into the water. Still nothing.
His head now just above the surface, he blew one final time, and it was met with a dog’s bark, then another and another. Just above the concrete bank, he noticed a shadowy figure staring at him, waging its tail. Next to the figure came another, then four more. As Melvis stretched his neck, his head perched upward to the sky, a last-ditch effort to enjoy breath—something he often hated ‘cause it smelled of feet and beer—a total of 20 dogs had gathered at the edge of the river, watching Melvis struggle to live.
“Go on, get, dammit!”
The dogs barked back.
Melvis hated dogs—the only good ones are the ones I cook down by the bend and use ketchup and onions on, he thought. But all that hate—about everything— slowly dissipated to an understanding of fear, of recourse, of the fact he might hate death most of all.
Melvis drowned that afternoon; his body found three days later near the dam he went to as a child, a time when he was happy—abused, but still, happy. Melvis died on the river he hated—but loved—so much, going down with his pride, his unknown fear, the toxic hate and ideals, and his gun.
His funeral was small and lasted only minutes. The group of men collectively agreed that they all hated the idea of attending a funeral, so no one went to pay a final goodbye, a respect, whatever. Melvis was buried the way he lived—alone—the ground now more sour than the day before.
In the afterlife, ironically, Melvis spends his time arguing with an entire regiment from the Civil War that he died because those goddman dogs didn’t understand the idea of throwing someone a bone.
And yes, Melvis hated that phrase.
Categories: Friday Shorts