Milk and Honey: Chapter Five

***Please keep in mind, as you read this, that this is a very rough draft of what will, one day, be a novel… I am currently revising/rewriting…***

Luc was a boy scout by the time memories began to indent his young brain.  He had often watched enviously as his brother put on his uniform.  Luc studied every patch that graced his brother’s arm.  He watched as his mother proudly sewed the physical symbols of his brother’s accomplishment onto the dark green fabric, sometimes sacrificing her own blood in the process.  She would curse under her breath as she bled.  The uniform would have to be washed again but the blood would resist her efforts.  The uniform was freckled with blood.  To Luc, these were the shirt’s most significant textures.  Every spring, Luc begged his parents to sign him up for scouts.  Finally, Marcel and Odette decided it was time.

Luc remembers his first day as a scout.  Marcel walked him and his brother to the club-house and stayed to watch his son stripped of his familiar fabrics.  His plaid shirt was folded and neatly placed on the dusty floorboards of the scout’s den, where his thick wool pants soon joined them.  As Luc stood there in his ginch, Marcel thought back to the infant son he once fed.  Even now, at the age of six, Luc seemed to be beyond Marcel’s command.  Luc had a supernatural authority about him.  Sunlight spilled upon his dark skin as he tried on his uniform for the first time.  The lone patch was not a symbol of achievement; everyone got this one in exchange for the registration fee which had broken the Louis bank account.

As Luc slid his leg through the bottom half of his uniform, Marcel thought to himself that his son looked out of place in his new apparel.  For Luc’s brother, the uniform was like a second skin.  He wore the clothing proudly and it looked good on his back.  Luc, on the other hand, wore the uniform like a hobo might wear a tuxedo.  He stood in front of the cracked, dusty mirror cocking his head to the right, hoping that he would look better on an angle.  The sleeves were too long and the buttons around Luc’s belly were almost bursting.  The scoutmaster must have noticed as well.  He tried three different sizes, only to settle upon his first choice.  Marcel grinned as Luc writhed uncomfortably in his new clothes.  Marcel gave his money to the scout master and walked back home.  Luc felt like a man.

Despite the awkwardness with which Luc wore the clothing, he quickly moved up the ranks of the boy scout fraternity.  Badges were brought home; Odette bled.  The boy’s wilderness skills were supernatural.  He could start a roaring fire with damp kindling and a long, nurturing breath; he had been watching Marcel closely in the mornings for many years.  Luc touched his compass with the confident, tender caress of a lover: he found every flag in the orienteering exercises, even the ones not yet hidden.  On boy scout nights, Luc often came home late.  Sometimes Marcel and Odette would worry and make a long journey through the dark to the clubhouse where they inevitably found Luc arguing with his scoutmasters about the finer points of water purification.  His superiors were surprised by the wealth of knowledge that Luc shared with them.  They asked him where he learned such things and he would simply shrug and say it was intuitive.

Luc’s ascent to the top of the boyscout ladder was far from solitary.  Luc made friends very quickly.  His best friend, Paul, was an excellent fisherman.  While Luc could fashion a dry-fly from a piece of wheat and an old penny, while he could do incredible things with his cast- wrap his fly around the appointed branch of any oak, he didn’t really enjoy the actual commitment that fishing required.  He would follow Paul to the river, cast a couple of times and then set his rod against a tree and, in Paul’s words, commence puttering around like a fuckin’ hen.  Sometimes Luc would bring a book, sometimes he would whittle.  Other times, he would just sit, watching the river flow as if  waiting for anointing.  Regardless of what exercise Luc chose to occupy his body, he would always keep his tongue occupied by screaming impossible commands at Paul.  “Try casting with your left hand, I promise you’ll catch a big’n!”  “You’re fuckin’ crazy Luc, why don’t you put your hook in the water if you’re such an expert”  “Trust me, switch hands!”

Luc’s fish prophesies were sound.  Paul swore that Luc had the curious ability to speak flapping fins into existence.  His success was not limited to the delicate art of fly-fishing either.  Marcel was known throughout the village as the bombastic fisherman.  Many people took issue with his unorthodox approach to the sport.  Marcel used no hooks or lures.  Instead, he dropped a stick of dynamite in the lake, which sent a death charge surging through the deep, murky lake water shocking fish of all sizes into submission.  The stunned fish were rendered unconscious and Marcel would collect them with his oversized, aluminum fishing net.  Marcel often took Luc to the lake with a boat, beer, and explosives; he followed every one of Luc’s insane demands.  “Don’t light the dynamite with your lighter anymore, use matches!”  The fuse was lit, the dynamite dropped into black water, and the tender bellies of copious amounts of perch were exposed on the surface of the lake.  Luc never missed.

To pacify the community’s reservations about the Louis’ unique style of fishing, the family became generous with its fish harvest.  Marcel would provide the butter, and Luc would provide the fish on one condition.  With an excentricity common to those who have gained mastery in a particular area, Luc would only eat the cheeks of the fish he summoned to the surface of the water.  He didn’t mind feeding the neighbors who flocked to his home so long as nobody else ate the smallest morsel of the tiny cheeks.  It was as strange request, almost as strange as the ones he would shout at his father from the back of their modest boat, but Marcel dutifully carved off the cheeks from the stiff fish with his skilled blade.  It took the cheeks of over a thousand fish to satisfy Luc’s hunger, but numbers were never an issue.  Marcel’s boat always sagged under the tremendous weight of perch, pike and pickerel when the men docked.  The boat could be smelled from a hundred miles away.

Despite Luc’s incredible, almost prophetic, skill for finding fish, one fish had always eluded him.  Every village has its myth about some kind of monster.  Stories of fantastical creatures rise from fires like sparks.  The Louis’ village was no different.  The village mythology featured a large fish, sometimes called the Leviathan, which grew with every telling of the story.  The Leviathan had taunted Marcel for years.  Sometimes the beast would arch its back and rub against the hull of Marcel’s boat in order to reassure them that the myths were true.  No photographs were ever taken, but the stories, especially as told by Luc, were worth a thousand pictures.  Marcel became silent whenever the fish was mentioned.  He refused to either endorse or deny the existence of the monster, but his ominous, burning silence screamed Leviathan.

One Friday evening in late September, Luc came home from school to a feast.  It was Luc’s favourite: venison tenderloin with a creamy juniper berry gravy complimenting a mountain of potatoes heavily saturated with butter and garlic.  Luc was given his very own pepper mill and his forearms worked hard as he poured a blanket of pepper upon his meal.  Marcel had prepared the meal himself, and a speech accompanied dessert.  “Luc, your uncle Pierre is coming tonight.  He wants to go fishining tomorrow morning and I have promised him that we will eat the Leviathan tomorrow night.  He will be here at dawn.  You need to wash your feet and go to bed right now.”  Luc’s belly was full of butter and starch, so he readily complied with Marcel’s wishes and blew his candle out early that evening.  He slept a deep sleep and awoke the next morning to the hearty laughter of his father and his uncle in the kitchen.

Luc had always idolized his uncle.  To Luc, Pierre had always been more of a man than his father.  While Marcel was more physically powerful, while Marcel laughed louder and drank more than his brother, Pierre’s silence dominated Luc’s understanding of what it meant to be a man.  Pierre’s words were few, but when he did speak, he sent an unspoken challenge to those listening to follow what he was saying.  People always rose to this challenge, even if it meant asking the person to their left or right what he said.  People took care to laugh loudly at Pierre’s deadpan humour, hoping to encourage him to utilize it more, but Pierre couldn’t be manipulated; he spoke only if he wanted to, accustomed and comfortable with silence.  The gravitational pull of his silence was immense had a tremendous effect on Luc, especially.

Pierre became Luc’s alter ego.  When Luc spoke to his boyscout buddies on matters concerning fire or fishing, he intentionally mimicked the low emphatic voice of his uncle.  Luc’s friends, in turn, would copy Luc’s borrowed expressions and celebrated their earth charm. Luc would smile when he heard his uncle’s voice in the throat of his friends.  It worried him sometimes, that one day his friends would meet his uncle and call Luc on his plagiarism of persona.  Indeed, the person that Luc’s friends knew was not Luc at all, but an impression of Pierre, which Luc had carefully grafted into his own character.  If Luc had his way, his friends would never meet his uncle; Luc wanted him for himself.  The chances of such meeting were slim.  Pierre was the type of man who preferred the companionship of his tools and his gun to the comfort of fellowship with other human beings.  He would often celebrate New Year’s Eve alone in the wilderness.  When 12:00 came, Pierre would rise from his earthen seat at the fire and let a blast from his rifle announce the beginning of the New Year; he would then extinguish his fire with his own piss and go to sleep.

Pierre’s greeting to Luc was predictable: “So Luc, what do you think?”  Luc was never sure how to respond to this question—it seemed to be both literal and rhetorical.  He mumbled something incoherent, which was ignored.  After breakfast, the brothers Louis and the boy drove to the lake in Pierre’s beat-up, cream coloured, Dodge Ram pick up truck.  Marcel filled the truck with talk and Luc was silent.  He was always this way in front of his uncle.  At family gatherings from which Pierre was often absent, Luc was the center of attention.  From a young age, Luc’s command of language was extraordinary and he entertained his kin with an elaborate collection of anecdotes both real and imagined.  At family reunions where Pierre was present, however, Luc fell under the silent spell of his uncle.  Members of the family noticed Luc’s obtuse silence and tried to coax him out of it.  They prodded him to tell his uncle this or that story.  Luc would laugh nervously and suggest that they should tell the story, that they could probably tell it better than he.  Luc stared at his plate and shouldered the weightless burden of his uncustomary silence.  He wished he could perform, but it seemed as though his powers dissipated as soon as he heard the sound of the Pierre’s beat up 4X4.  Luc’s silence was one of reverence; an oblation given to a silent, burning bush.  He hung on every one of his Uncle’s few words.

Cigar smoke filled the cab of the truck.  The smell of good tobacco followed Pierre with him everywhere.  While Luc was unaccustomed to tobacco smoke, the smell contained not the faintest hint of danger or cancer.  To Luc, it smelled holy and lulled him into a deep, dreamy sleep.  Pierre carried Luc to the boat, where Luc continued to dream.  He dreamed he saw God.  With big fore-finger pointing at Luc, God commanded him to wake and spread the good news to the infidels on board who smoked strong tobacco, threw dynamite at creation and punctuated their words with profanities.  The brothers Louis were having an awful morning.  Many sticks of dynamite and had been thrown and not a single fish to show for it.  Luc slept.

By 10:00 AM, a storm was gathering force in the west.  Thunder, a natural, clean thunder, replied to the sonic booms of the dynamite thrown into the lake by Marcel.  “Maybe we should pack it in for the day, Marcel. I don’t think there’s any fish in this fuckin’ lake”.  “You ate a fish from this lake for breakfast, you stupid fuck.  Be patient.”  Pierre sighed.  He knew his brother well enough to recognize the blood lust in his eyes.  God himself could not get Marcel of the lake; he continued to paddle, sure that there would be fish up ahead.  Pierre chewed on the end of a now-extinguished cigar and helped his brother paddle.  Luc slept defiantly, provoking God to a more exaggerated rage.

By noon, water was falling from the sky and waves crashed into the side of the small boat.  Pierre and Marcel’s frantic paddles fought against the black water.  “I’ve never seen a storm like this before, Pierre. Paddle harder.”  Marcel’s voice cracked with fear.  “I don’t think I can, you’d better wake the lad”.  Marcel shook his son out of a deep sleep.  Upon seeing the whites of Luc’s heavily lidded eyes, Marcel became a child to his son.  “Luc, wake up!  We’re in a bad storm, what should we do?”  Luc saw panic ravaging the face of his father.  He looked back and saw his uncle paddling in vain.  He looked over the side of the boat and while he had seen the waters of this lake innumerable times, they were now estranged from him—black and deadly.  Looking again at his uncle, Luc immediately knew what had to be done.  “Uncle Pierre has to get out of the boat”.  “What?”  The brothers replied in unison. “If uncle Pierre doesn’t get out of the fuckin’ boat right now, we will all drown—get the fuck out of the boat, Pierre”.   All three men were shocked by Luc’s words.  They’d never heard Luc speak so harshly to his uncle, who he obviously idolized and despite the fact that the words put Pierre in immediate danger, he was proud of his nephew.  The lad sounds like a man, Pierre thought to himself.  Luc was taken off guard by his command; he had momentarily lost control of his tongue.  Luc was dream-talking’.

Marcel, momentarily possessed by his son’s command, lost control of his limbs, grabbed his brother by the hair and pushed him towards the waves.  Awkward instant, the boat swayed and Pierre disappeared into the black. Luc screamed, but felt ridiculous in doing so; his father had simply obeyed him.  He was, by then, comfortable with his father’s insane adherence to his command.  Marcel eagerly complied to every suggestion his son made; he was like a court jester, eager to comply to every one of King Luc’s wishes.  Luc sat in disbelief.  The boat rose an inch higher above the waves.

Pierre had been cast into a cold and silent universe.  Marcel’s frantic voice had vanished. Pierre breathed the cold, life-extinguishing waters of the lake.  He tried to rise but didn’t know up from down; direction was ambiguous.  His big, black boots willed with water and tugged him toward the darkness.  He reached for the fishing knife he carried on his belt and tried to cut his laces.  In his panic, he sliced the top of his foot but didn’t feel a thing; the water was freezing cold and he was in a mild state of shock.  Pierre disappeared from the sight of his brother and his nephew and entered into the vision of a strange companion.

The Leviathan smelled Pierre before he saw him.  Cigar smoke followed Pierre into the water.  It was an odd smell to the nose of the monster.  It wasn’t the usual, fishy smell of prey, but the formal smell of prayer that made the monster’s heart quicken.  He elegantly flapped his tail and moved toward Pierre.  For months, the Leviathan had subsisted on rodents, frogs and flies.  His last substantial meal was almost a year prior to Pierre’s descent.  A deer had fallen through a thin patch of ice.  Frantic splashes summoned the monster, who feasted on red blood for a day.  In this lake, there was no competitor that threatened the beast.  Sometimes, in search of excitement, he took a lure to feel the strength of the man on the other side.  It was never a fair fight.  A fisherman is only as strong as the line on his rod and most of the fishermen here used 10 lb. test: a violent shake of the head would instantly snap the line.  Lures were partially digested.  They provided a false sense of nourishment, resting and rusting in the Leviathan’s distended belly.  On this day, the Leviathan would eat.

Pierre was swallowed whole.  Confused, Pierre muttered to himself: “Well, what the fuck happened there?”  Pierre was warm.  He no longer struggled to breathe lake water.  Instead, Pierre was almost smothered by half digested shards of rodent, amoeba and insect.  Ironically, the inside of a fish smells nothing like fish.  The smell reminded Pierre of the few times he had accidentally punctured the stomach lining of a fallen deer as he was dressing it out.  It isn’t an awful smell—very strong, but not unpleasant; it smelled like victory.  For a moment, Pierre wondered if he had died and was now in the afterlife.  Heaven or Hell?  It didn’t seem to be either one of them.  It is warm here, but certainly not as hot as hell.  I don’t see any fuckin’ angels here; I don’t see anything at all.  The stomach lining around him shrunk and expanded and he lost all sense of time.

On the other side of the lake’s surface, Luc and Marcel had forgotten all about Pierre.  Each man grabbed a paddle and fought against the waves.  As they paddled, they didn’t notice that their foe, the mighty lake, was relenting.  The storm had subsided and the lake was becoming more and more calm—as if appeased by their human sacrifice.  The rain stopped, and their strokes became more and more effective.  The boat soon reached the North shore, which was by now illuminated by the sun and a glorious rainbow.  The storm had only lasted for an hour.  All was quiet as the men wiped the sweat from their brows.

While the lake was now calm, the belly of the beast surged.  Gastric juice upon gastric juice: violence among insects and lake weed and Frenchmen.  Pierre was choking on the yellow bile of his captor.  He slipped in and out of consciousness.  Paranoid delusions became reality as nightmares were exchanged for nightmares.  He remembered the last time he had seen death; his father had died two years ago on a hunting trip.  Pierre was the only one to see it.  He fought death frantically, trying to resuscitate the gurgling lips of the man he loved best.  He heard his father’s ribs crack and watched as his lips turned a pale shade of blue.  He felt guilty even though many people reassured him that it was his father’s time.  He thought about his father every day.  Pierre wrestled with his own thoughts as the fish’s belly wrestled with Pierre.

The beast had never felt nausea before.  The hooks in his massive gut had, at times, caused him some minor stomach irritation, but nothing like this.  The monster was frightened.  His mouth filled with a highly viscous kind of saliva as instinct led him to the shoreline.  His gigantic belly scraped against the shoreline like the hull of a doomed ship.  On land, the fish’s gills and fins were rendered useless.  He began to suffocate and finally giving in to the quakes of nausea, he vomited.  Vomiting improved the countenance of the monster.  He used his massive stores of energy in an attempt to get back into the lake.  He flapped around for a bit like the village epileptic but his situation was only worsened by his effort.  His left eye stared at the lake; he was too far from home.  Flies covered his body and everything started to fade away.  He died in a pile of his own vomit, at death worthy of a rockstar.

Two days worth of regurgitated kill, a semi-conscious Frenchman and a very large dead fish layed on the southern shore of the lake.  Pierre coughed.  Oxygen, which was by now unfamiliar to him, was distasteful to his throat.  He felt the earth beside him with his tobacco stained finger nails and felt grateful—sand underneath his fingernails.  He passed out with a broad smile upon his face.

Nighttime.  A lamp lites Pierre’s face.  Luc and Marcel fought the urge to cover their noses; the smell on this beach was overpowering.  Luc had urged his father on into the night in search of Pierre.  Marcel was frantic and sobbed as he followed Luc’s lamp into the dark.  He was sure that his brother was dead.  “If only we’d waited ten fucking minutes!  What the fuck was I thinking?”.  In contrast to Marcel, Luc was calm, confident that he could pluck Pierre from the darkness just as he had done with so many fish.  “There he lay.”  Luc nudged his uncle out of a restless slumber.  Their eyes met, and from then on there would no longer be silence between them.  They were brothers, after all.  Luc knew this, and so did Pierre.

And so, on this day, a sacrifice was made, and later spit up; rainbows hover upon a rejected offering.  None of the men would ever utter a word about the incident.  Before going home, the men pushed the fish back into the water; no pictures were taken.  The men came home in the dark and went right to bed.

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