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Josh Hirman


photo of Josh reading his storyScene: Inside a large, modern-made fish house is a man in his late fifties, wearing a faded, camo baseball hat with letters, sitting on a five-gallon bucket that is upside down by one of the stage right fishing holes. He is wearing a flannel shirt and jeans, with winter boots. He is holding on to a short ice-fishing pole that looks weathered and worn in one hand, jigging it every so often, and rubbing between his thumb and finger a dull orange weight used to determine water depths. A can of Busch beer sits on the floor by the bucket. The man looks contemplative. The door to the fish house opens and in walks a younger man in his late twenties, dressed in jeans, a down jacket, hat, and snow boots, as if he just stepped out of an REI dressing room. He takes off his heavy gloves and puts his hands above the propane stove burner.

Melvin: (distant but with gentle chiding) City’s made you soft. Didja’ finish packing the snow?

Peter: Yea. There shouldn’t be any wind blowing in. The snow is starting to harden and it was getting too dark to see any holes out there. (chuckles) I was afraid I’d step into one and lose a boot.

Melvin: Good, there’s nuthin’ worse than cold air comin’ in all night. Those sleepin’ bags can only hold so much heat without the wind howling down your legs. Got all your gear in here? Fishin’ poles? Tackle? Bait? Openin’ and shuttin’ that door only makes things worse. (Pause) I scooped your holes out. (Pause) Ready for a beer? (He opens the cooler next to the bucket, pulls out another can of beer, and hands it to Peter.)

Peter: Sure, Dad. (Takes the beer can.)

Melvin: This is the spot. I can feel it. There’s a rock pile beneath us. Old Walter told me about this pile of rocks right on the edge of a drop off. Thirty yards out, he said. Between the two clumps of trees. Three on one side, four on the other. Sit right between them. Swears by it. Good walleye spot. They love rocks. Come in outta’ the depths to feed. We’ll slaughter ‘em.

Peter: Sure, Dad. That’s what you told me when we drilled the holes. (He pulls the tab and opens the beer.) But if it’s such a good spot, I mean, why would he tell us? There probably aren’t any fish left here if he told us the location, Dad.

Melvin: Bah. This is a good spot. Swears by it.

Peter: Alright, alright. I’ll just set up over here by these two holes. (He moves to the stage left corner and flips another five-gallon bucket upside down. Sits. He grabs a fishing pole and begins to thread the hook. Looks into his tackle box.) Dad, can I get your depth weight. (Reluctantly)I, uh, thought I had one.

Melvin: (Sharply) You outta’ to have one in there. Here. (Hands over the weight. Peter takes it.) Thought you had all your gear? Can’t fish without proper tackle.

Peter: I must have missed it. (Attaches it to the hook and sends the weighted fishing line down the hole. Measures and brings it back up.)

Melvin: You need a sucker?

Peter: (Exasperated)No, Dad. I just didn’t have the weight, I’ve got my gear. (Reaches into the minnow bucket and pulls out a fathead. Attaches it to the hook as it squirms and wiggles to free itself. Drops the line in the hole.) Any bites yet?

Melvin: Just a nibble, nuthin’ much. (There is a long pause) Y’know, Hal’s a good fisherman. He’d have a fish by now. Knows just how to find them and what they’re bitin’ on. Wish he could be here with us. (Loud sounds of popping and cracking trail along the surface of the lake)

Peter: I know, Dad. Me, too. He said he may show up sometime if he can get out of work this weekend. Auto sales are picking up these last few months. It’s busy for him. (Another long pause) So what’s Mom up to? (Jigs his line)

Melvin: Cookin’. She’s always cookin’. There used to be a time I could eat as much as she cooks without worrying about the weight. But now, everything’s stickin’. Ever since construction slowed down, been laid off, ya’ know, that’s all I do is eat your mother’s cookin’. She’s been experimentin’ with those fancy recipes she gets from the internet. She has to get recipes with this special lettuce. Argola or Agula or somethin’ like that.

Peter: Arugula?

Melvin: Yea, that’s it. Arugula. That’s it. Sounds like a damn country instead of somethin’ you eat. And besides that, no French dressing. No Ranch. Usually pours something fruity on it. Adds flavor she says. (Pause) Ah well, makes her happy in these times. (Another pause) I was just thinkin’, not meanin’ to pry or anything. I know it upsets you when I bug ya, but I was just thinkin’, ya know, you oughta have a wife by now. (Fires rapidly)You’re twenty-nine, gone to college, ya got a job and all, I get that. But I was married at your age and had Hal by then. ‘Bout time ya settle down like your brother. Hal’s wife can keep a kitchen, too, ya know.

Peter: She’s a chef, Dad.

Melvin: Can cook can’t she?

Peter: (Reluctantly) Well, that’s why I wanted to see you, Dad. I’ve met someone. Someone I’d like you and Mom to meet.

Melvin: (Surprisingly looks at Peter) That so? Good for you. ‘Bout time. She comin’ up this weekend?

Peter: Yes, tomorrow. I, uh, wanted her to meet all of you this weekend. (Wind can be heard blowing outside). I was, uh, hoping Hal could meet her, too.

Melvin: (Excitedly)Tell me about her. Wheredja’ meet her? Where’s she from? Can she cook? Peter: (Laughs)We met at the university. She … (There’s a swift knock at the door as it opens and a blast of cold wind fills the house. Brian walks in. He is in his early-forties, dressed for winter-fishing, and seems to have a sort of stiffness to his gait. He has a certain gruffness about him that lessens at the recognition of Peter.)

Brian: Heard you might be in town this weekend! How are ya?

Peter: Doing well, Brian. How are you? How’s the family?

Brian: As good as can be. (Turns to Melvin) Mel, catchin’ anything?

Melvin: Nah. But we just got settled. They’ll be here. We’re gonna slaughter ‘em tonight. Best spot on the lake.

Brian: You’ve been talkin’ to Walter again, haven’t ya?

Peter: That’s what I tried to tell him.

Brian: (Pause) Ya hear about Jimmy?

Melvin: Yup.

Brian: Yea, awful shame falling off scaffolding like that. Doctors say he’ll be off his feet for some time. Broken leg, some ribs. Tore his damn rotator cuff as he held on before he fell. Awful shame. Son’ bitch is lucky, though. Two stories like that can kill a man.

Melvin: Why the hell wasn’t he wearing his safety harness? Preach all day long about them!

Brian: Shortcuts, I suppose. Young and stupid if you ask me.

Melvin: Yea, well the foreman should see that.

Brian: (Silence)There’s a chance you might get back on the payroll. You’re close to being next up on the union list, aren’t ya?

Melvin: They say there’s a black fella’ ahead of me.

Brian: Should of figured.

Melvin: I got time. Work seems to be pickin’ up. I’ll be back in no time.

Brian: Yea, but it’s gotta make you wonder. Y’know, we got so many of them Hmong comin’ out here too. Know what I heard? They got three or four of them families livin’ together in one house. I also hear they can stay in a house tax free for seven years and our government is payin’ for that shit, too! What gets me is that then they just move after their time’s up. They move out and we’re stuck payin’ their taxes. What the hell is this country comin’ to?

Peter: I’m not quite sure that’s how it works.

Brian: It’s true! And I’m a damn citizen and have to pay for them livin’ here tax free. It ain’t right.

Peter: Well there has to be some other explanation for those circumstances. I mean, there’s a lot of history between America and Laos with the Vietnam war. For instance…

Brian: (Attacking) That’s no reason for not payin’ taxes. Hell, your dad knows more about the war than the both of us. Tell ‘em Mel.

Melvin: We don’t need to bring that up now. We’re fishin’. No room in here for that tonight.

Brian: Yea, you’re right. (Long silence) We’ll, I should get back to my fish house. Just checkin’ in. See ya boys. (Leaves)

Peter: (Not necessarily to Melvin)I don’t understand how people can believe some of the fodder that’s out there.

Melvin: Now don’t get all riled up ‘bout nothin’. You know Brian, he means well, just says what he says (Abruptly). Tell me about this girl. You were talkin’ ‘bout her before.

Peter: (Passionately) I do know Brian and I know he’s a friend to the family, but that still doesn’t give him the right to be so judgmental of other people! We seem to be moving so far to the right on social issues in this country that….

Melvin: Now don’t go and get started on politics. We’re here to fish! (Tries humor) So grab that fishin’ pole and help me with catchin’ these walleye. I have a feelin’ Walter may have been talkin’ out of his ass.

Peter: But, Dad….

Melvin: Just drop it!

Peter: Dad, you can’t tell me you believe what people say. I know you read the paper. I’ve heard you say some pretty progressive thoughts here and there, especially with your experience with the war and the mess we’ve been in lately in Iraq and Afghanistan. You don’t buy into all this xenophobic and racist drivel!

Melvin: And why shouldn’t I? There’s nothin’ different between me and Brian, or anyone else on this lake for that matter. Just because you got some big words under your belt and think you know other people, don’t mean you know people ‘round here anymore. You left that a long time ago. So what if people want to keep to themselves. Let ‘em. Seems to be an awful lot of change when other people come in from the outside. ho are these people anyway? What do they want? Why would they want to come here?

Peter: (Taken aback) I … I just thought you saw things differently. That’s all. (There is a long silence broken by the continuous popping and cracking of ice)

Melvin: Listen, there’s no reason why this weekend has to be sour because of something Brian said or because of people we don’t even know.

Peter: But there is, Dad. That’s just it.

Melvin: What are you talkin’ bout?

Peter: The girl I’m seeing, Dad. (Resolute) Her name is Natalie. She’s Native American.

Melvin: Indian. You’re datin’ an Indian?

Peter: Native American, Dad. I thought… I thought there might be a chance everyone could look past it. Not worry about her or her race. But there seems to be a real fear around here.

Melvin: (Takes a swig of beer and crushes can) Outta’ beer. I’m going to the truck to get some.