Chapter Thirty-Nine: When the Net Was Full They Collected the Good Fish in Baskets But Threw the Bad Away

Editor’s note: this story comes direct from the Bartender at Jim’s, some details corroborated by some regulars like Alice Rollins and Fred Mills. Dad says he also was at Jim’s and remembers the day that Jeremy The Fisherman discovered pollution in Vine. 

It was nearing midnight and Jeremy the Fisherman ordered another whiskey. 

“Ain’t you taking the boat out tomorrow Jeremy?” the Bartender said. 

“Every day the sun rises” Jeremy said. 

“Yet you exist in the dark hours of the night.”

“A man’s operating hours are his own business.”

So had Jeremy carved out his specific niche in his own corner of the consecrated land of Vine: a humble shack at the edge of the forest near the lake and walking distance to the bar. For the Lord God commanded a life of poverty and thus was Jeremy interested only in that which would fulfill his moral obligations to God and Vine. His shack had a simple bed of straw and one sturdy wooden table for preparing food. His life was lived primarily in the bounty of God’s creation: a wooden pier led from his door to where his boat docked. Shortly before dawn and shortly after dusk he would motor into the waters and cast both net and rod. The Lord and the lake would provide enough for him to sell at market or store in George Polk’s walk-in fridge at the general store. 

He walked home in the witching hour allowing the evils of night to behold a repentant and unburdened man of God in full view. For when one walks with the Lord the Devil dare not remain anything but distant. Late nights did not bother Jeremy and he spent these small hours in an alternating state of drunken meditation prayer and sleep. The crickets intoned and the wolves howled and the owls slashed through still blackness to gather mice in their talons. Yet God had granted humanity dominion over the flora and fauna of the Earth and Jeremy was content in his position as a minor fisherman. 

Before the sun began to spill its pinkorange paint across the sky he prepared a cooler of water and ham sandwiches and smelled the dewey grass as he walked to the dock. Even the blank-slate dawn promised a cloudless day. He took the line off the cleat and prepared trawling rods as the motor propelled him out to the middle of lake. No swimming distance here. No hearing the calls of whatever ailed those back ashore. Reeds and reeds of underwater forest caressed the bottom of the boat—a vast hidden world that God pulled back and tamed when he brought forth land for humans to dwell upon. He knew there were those who dumped in the lake: trash animal waste beer can empties. To him that was meddling in a part of the world not granted by God for humans to subdue. Earth and sea separate for a reason he thought between bites of sandwich. Before long the sun inched close enough to its noon summit that it would be imprudent to languish on the waters much longer. 

As he collected the day’s bounty from his nets and laid them on his cleaning table he noticed a faint smell of burnt garlic. A small acid scraping through the space in the air usually reserved for twinberries. He took the largemouth bass from his container felt their rough scales in calloused hands and began to bisect the fish for gutting. He took the good fish and collected them in a container to be taken to George Polk’s walk-in at the general store. But when he came to the seventh fish he cut into it and its innards and entrails were blacker than the wettest soil on the darkest night. The smell of burnt garlic and acrid decomposition assaulted his face. He threw the bad fish away. But so too was the next fish spoiled. And so to where six more fish after.

“Good catch today Jeremy?” George Polk greeted him at the market. 

“Half” Jeremy said. He had only brought two modest containers of fresh brown trout and bluegill. “Something evil lurking in the water.”

“What you mean? Like sea-beasts? Man-eating? Or whatever you used as bait this morning?” George was laughing with his whole belly.

“Close up shop a minute and come see.”

Thus George Polk hung a Back At 1:30 sign on the general store door and Jeremy did lead him to his shack by the lake. The acidic smell of burnt garlic was slinking its way into the spruce trees. 

In the tall marshy grass by the wooden path Jeremy had cast the fish with the blackened innards. Nearly a dozen lay bisected and bile-leaking darker even than the deep brown mud. A swarm of gnats and flies were saying cacophonous prayers in the air above the poisonous fish. 

“Well it sure is attracting the basest and most mean of God’s creatures” George Polk said.

“Something impure coming into the lake” Jeremy said. “Something not meant for this portion of God’s creation.”

The men frowned at the fish and at the sky. For though they knew that Vine was consecrated land for God’s chosen in the Americas nothing was to stop the will of the Lord. If the people of Vine had sinned against God’s creation they would not be exempt from God’s punishment.

Jeremy went into his shack and drank a beer while meditating on all he had seen in the morning. When it was time to sleep he sank to his knees at the edge of his straw bed and prayed: “God I beg you hear your humble servant: You are the almighty and You have ordained this place of Vine to your chosen people in the Americas to have dominion over and enjoy the fruits of your bountiful creation. Your servant Jeremy is a humble fisherman. If the people of Vine have offended the waters of the lake in such a way as to cause poisonous injury to the fish please guide us away from the path of unrighteousness and towards the light shimmering over clean water. Your humble servant is begging for clean fish.” Then Jeremy who was a servant of the Lord settled into his afternoon nap before the dusk fish came out. 

In the purple-and-gray dusk Jeremy motored through the reedy lake with trawling lines set and nets cast. He recalled Jesus instructing the disciples who had been fishing all day without a catch to cast their nets off the other side. Because Jesus said so the disciples cast their net off the other side of the boat into the deep water and caught so many fish that their nets began to break. So to did Jeremy once his boat had passed the thickest of the reeds and all his eyes could see was fathoms upon fathoms of deep ink-blue water cast down his nets and catch so many fish that his nets began to strain from the weight. 

The boat dragged in the water and Jeremy had to ensure the fish were evenly dispersed throughout the vessel. Once ashore it took three trips back and forth from his cleaning-table to the dock and back to his cleaning-table to carry the entire bounty of fish. With his knife sharp and true he cut off the fins and scaled the fish and reached back to vent the fish. Black bile poured forth more viscous and flowing than before. Nor was the number of afflicted fish limited to a dozen but so it was that each fish in the entirety of the catch spilled forth with black bile. And the bile did run over the marshy grass between Jeremy’s shack and the lake. 

“Another whiskey?” the Bartender asked.

“Yessir” Jeremy said. 

“Shame about them fish.”

“Some kinda rot lurking in that lake.”

“Some kinda rot lurking in Vine” the Bartender said. He watched the deep caramel of the whiskey empty into the glass. “Have to go in the back get you another bottle.”

“Some kinda rot lurking” Jeremy the Fisherman said.

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