Grinnel

DELTA SHORTS

 

Grinnel

By WILLIAM PRENTISS

WARNING: This story, though ultimately shrouded in redemption, does portray some characters in their basest state, including coarse language, non-gratuitous graphic sexuality, and internal dialogue and behaviors, which include obvious incidents of racism, sexism, and behaviors unbecoming those seen in a moral and polite society.

Please read no malicious intent into the author’s purpose for developing these flawed characters other than to present to the reader believable Delta characters–always fodder for a tale told by an idiot, signifying very little, other than just a Delta tale worth telling.

This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to people or places, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Photo by The Delta Bohemian

Photo by The Delta Bohemian

William Prentiss, with the assistance of his able and noble bride of mythical proportions, a fine meta-muse named Madge Marley Howell, has begun thinking about the “Great Southern Novel.” He will be describing characters rooted deeply in the Delta psyche.

He knows no more about them than does the reader. They reveal themselves line-by-line and serif-by-serif. William is likely more expectant than the reader to find out how his developing characters will behave.

At what point will plot be made manifest? It depends. In describing the characters and an incident or two from their past and present, Mr. Prentiss believes the story line will become clearer as the morning sun burns away the dross like dew on Saint Augustine.

All characters are fictional, but how could a Delta writer not use real-life folks and genuine incidents as the skeletons awaiting the meat and sinew of prose and verse? For a better understanding of this character, read Carlene and Father Percy and Milky Steve.

Grinnel

            Grinnel hadn’t killed anybody, yet! Smoke, still curling at ear level as it left the barrel of his 45-caliber pistol, casts an unearthly pall as it danced around his manic grin. Minnows were flopping more than swimming across the gravelly threshold leading from Jenkins’s Bait Shop and General Store onto the sweltering what-passed-for-a-parking lot. The dingy, white, fiberglass minnow tank had shattered, swiftly carrying bewildered fish among cascading rivulets of water onto the oil-based grave beneath. The minnow wars had just reached a new level, and according to Grinnel, not a damn minute too soon!

Grinning ear to ear, James Lewis, known as Grinnel to his buddy’s and the good folks at the county jail, was as proud of himself as a two-dick dog or as his granddaddy often said, a three-peckered possum; he hadn’t been able to think of an animal with four penises yet, but he was working on it. Fish and sex were not mutually exclusive in the Mississippi Delta, and were closer than kissing cousins on Sun Lake, an ancient oxbow created when the Mississippi River used to meander unrestrained before the massive mounds of dirt, called levees, were constructed on either side of the river.

Ken and James grew up across the road from one another, spending their childhoods “relating” by throwing dirt clods and large chunks of chipped asphalt from Sun Lake Road at each other, when they weren’t fishing together or smoking grape vines and corn husk. Both families were in the “fish” business. Ken’s family, the Jenkins, ran the bait shop and general store on the east side of Sun Lake, right across the street from Lewis’s Bait Shop and General Store.

For five generations both families had co-existed, squabbled, drank and fornicated with, fought, and prepared for the impending Revolution–the long expected apocalyptic rising up of modern-day Bolsheviks and local black folks known to be influenced by urban gangs. It was imperative that sensible white folks be ready–weapons and rounds cleaned, oiled, and stored in hidden but easy-to-reach depositories.

As tough as the “pig feets” both families of bait fishers sold to their black customers, the Lewis’s and the Jenkins’s never gave an inch. They would run off or whip a good-paying customer’s ass just for correcting their English or making them feel like they were stupid–they were–it didn’t take much for them to feel that way.

Crickets, minnows, fishing lures, beer, pork skins, lunchmeat, milk, three brands of mayonnaise and white bread could be had in abundance from either capitalistic venture, but minnows were the gold standard. Minnows were at a premium during crappie season, and season for fish or mammal in the Delta was defined by when they could be caught or shot. Both stores sold fishing and hunting licenses, but the seasons defined by them mattered little on Sun Lake or anywhere in the county.

James Lewis got his name from the trash fish known as a grenal or bowfin, which was referred to–and not always fondly–as mudfish, grinnel, cottonfish, dogfish, swamp muskie, black fish, swamp bass, poisson-castor, speckled cat, beaverfish, cypress trout, and lawyer. Not sure why it is called a lawyer, except maybe because it is bony, not good to eat, mean as hell, and will try to bite someone even out of the water, and then turn around and try to bill for it. Most folks thought the bevy of nicknames for Grinnel’s scaly namesake all fit him rather nicely.

A black man once told Grinnel that the grinnel was the toughest of fish, even tougher than a gar. He told him the grinnel was the first cousin to a snake and he could be put in a freezer for two weeks and when taken out he would come back to life. Grinnel learned from him that the fish does just like a bear during the winter–he “hominates.”

The Ides of March fete was given annually by the Delta Do-It-All grand dame, Greenway Johnson, at what the Sun Laker’s called the “Big House.” The Johnson crib, as the Jenkins and Lewis families called it, was the source of much contention between them. Greenway always hired both families to guide out-of-town guests on afternoon fishing excursions prior to having them separately fry catfish, crappie, and bream on the lakeside veranda.

Each family set up their own fryers about 30 yards apart, facing each other. Both were paid handsomely to cook their own fish to golden perfection. Handsomely, meaning they about broke even, but both were allowed to continue running their apparently deteriorating lake stores without the Johnson’s opening a third just to put them both out of business.

Acquiescence was not an option; it was an economic must. And, the hushpuppies better be exceptional, with just the right amount of sugar and spice. Cornmeal, right up there with church and taking care of momma, is considered a major food group in the Mississippi Delta, and Deltans don’t play when it comes to frying anything rolled in a corn by-product.

Grinnel was tired of the Jenkins family lowering the price on minnows. They would lower the price, then the Lewis’s would lower the price. Hell, one could get five-dozen minnows from both places for under $2 now. Though considered a loss leader–items sold below cost just to get folks in the store so they would buy beer, gas, and groceries at inflated “lake prices–it still was eating into both their profits selling a hot item at a loss.

The non-firearm portion of the minnow wars had been going on for about a month–since early February–early for crappie fishing in most states, but not for the ardent fisherman in the state with more “S” letters than a snake lisp. If the price for minnows went any lower, Grinnel figured they might as well give them away along with a free bass boat and a subscription to Gun and Ammo magazine. Hell, throw in a case of Budweiser while they’re at it, he continued to figure.

Grinnel heard through the Sun Lake grapevine, more twisted than a thick-ass Mississippi River towboat cable and not nearly as reliable, that the Jenkins had developed a new crappie and catfish batter that the old Johnson bitch, who thinks she owns the lake, loved more than her last lover, a gin man from the Missouri boot hill.

To hell with some newfangled jinky-ass Jenkins batter, nobody could put a scald on freshwater game fish like Grinnel. He was confident he would win, yet again, the coveted Ides of March Golden Skillet. Though it was a spray-painted cast-iron skillet Greenway Johnson had come up with years ago to make both fish families spend more time and money on trying to win her favor than the pittance she paid them could ever account for, he still coveted it like a spray-on rhino bed on a new extended-cab pickup truck.

The Golden Skillet garnered Sun Lake bragging rights for the fish and bait shop who passed the Johnson muster. Grinnel figured if the old lady would just let him “hit it,” she would figure out what an incredible, low-country love machine he was and the trophy would no longer require so much money and effort to win. If Granny really experienced the Grinnel, he knew she would pant for more than well-seasoned catfish, bream, and crappie.

Grinnel had been the chief minnow dipper for the Lewis family for several years now, and his word among his pasty brethren was the final word. If Grinnel said do it, they did it. Plus, Grinnel grew a little weed on the side and the kinfolks enjoyed not having to pay for homegrown, but the ensuing munchies cost him dearly in the snack-food disappearance business. He knew when he came in off the lake and a host of Lewis’s was sitting around in 10-year old lawn chairs with plastic seats busting at the seams, grinning ear to ear by the beer machine, that they had been smoking his weed and stealing his overpriced junk food. They loved to tell Grinnel that the black folks were stealing his chips again and that he ought to get a camera. They knew he wouldn’t buy one, so their Cheetos pilfering days were safe.

Hell, most of them, men and women, topped 250 pounds, not including the pink stretch pants and white-ribbed sleeveless t-shirts that the women wore and the coveralls the men donned year round. He thought if he could just build a walled-in compound, designed to keep his relatives inside like the Russians built in Germany to keep the East Germans from fleeing to the West, that he could stock it with cheap beer, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, water, meat parts, Soap Opera Digest and a 19-inch color television, that he could actually make some money and have some free time to himself.

According to Grinnel, Ken Jenkins’s punk ass plucked the last straw off of the proverbial camel’s lumpy back when he told some out-of-towners that Lewis’s minnows had dry rot, not even something minnows get. When he found out about it, he became incensed; slowly realizing this was all the justification he needed to begin the ending of competition on Sun Lake.

Pow, Pow, Pow, Pow, Pow, five rounds staccato, all five mushroomed projectiles shattering into pieces the fiberglass, outdoor, minnow tank. Grinnel loved the smell of cordite almost as much as he loved the smell of weed, women, and women who had been smoking weed. Gunpowder made him horny, cocky, and almost thoughtful.

He wasn’t stupid, he made damn sure Ken and his family of miscreants were out on the lake when he unloaded years of frustration and pent up testosterone on the minnow tank. The only employee in the store was Ken’s deaf grandmother, along with his younger brother Roy, who had been kidded his whole life as being a short-bus rider, a cruel way of saying he rode the Special Education bus to school.

At the drop of a baseball hat, Ken would beat the hell out of anybody who laughed at Roy. Grinnel liked to laugh about the short bus, but he didn’t laugh too hard at Roy, as he had his own short-bus-riding family members, and he had missed riding the short bus by only a couple of IQ points. The Sun Lake gene pool did not have a deep end.

Grinnel began his slow, ambling saunter back across Sun Lake Road just as Roy stumbled out of the store, head bent low, not comprehending the last couple of minnow belly flops, as their skin became sticky with dehydration and parking lot grime. Roy asked Grinnel what had happened. Grinnel told him to go on back inside and be a good boy.

Roy saw the gun, and he began to understand. “Grinnel, why did you kill my fish? Why?” Grinnel told him it would be okay, and to go on back inside and everything would be fine. Roy started to cry. Then he began to punch himself in the face–harder and harder and harder. His nose began to bleed as his wails became louder and louder.

Grinnel ran to him and tried to hold his arms at this side. Still holding the 45 in his right hand, he had a hard time controlling Roy–though as innocent as a little child, was as strong as the 250-pound frame that carried him. Losing his grip, Grinnel fell forward just as Roy wrestled the pistol from his grasp. Roy, having no experience with firearms, wasn’t sure how to point and shoot, though he had seen it done on cartoons.

One shot, followed by the clanking of metal on beveled asphalt. Roy looked up from the ground, where he had fallen following the recoil, and saw nothing. Where did Grinnel go? Then he looked at his feet. Grinnel was lying on the ground, clutching his ears.

Roy heard a gasping sound, just as he felt liquid flowing over the fingers on his left hand. He listened to a whistling sound that reminded him of the sound heard on the porch when the wind blew in from the lake right before bedtime. Looking at his red and white fingers, he began to feel a painful stretching in his chest. He keeled over and looked up at Grinnel, who was now standing over him.

Roy wondered why Grinnel was not smiling. Grinnel always smiled a lot, just like the fish Ken had told him about. Grinnel looked scared, which scared Roy, who weakly asked Grinnel to find Ken, because he didn’t feel right. He told Grinnel that he was scared, and Grinnel told him it would be okay, and not to move.

Grinnel knew he would always remember the moment Roy’s life force left the lake. He loved Roy; he meant him no harm. Roy pulled the trigger. He had aimed it at himself. It was Roy’s fault, no? This changed everything. Shit, why did Roy have to be so stupid? Why? Why?

Grinnel began to run. He forgot the pistol and just ran. He didn’t know where he was heading, but he needed to move. He thought better on the run; must be in his gypsy blood. He knew, as did the angels who watched over the Roy’s of the world, that Sun Lake would never be the same. And it never would be! Run Grinnel run!

WE HIGHLY ENCOURAGE COMMENTS!!


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Comments

  1. Grinnel! Gone,Gone. Not cause some Jenkin’s “Over Minnered” him out of bidness though!!! Grinnel’s Ass “Will Return” to Sun Lake. I Believe.

  2. You know you can throw a grinnel in the frying pan after he’s been in the freezer for two weeks….and he will be alive.

  3. But this time ain’t no homination, it’s homicidation, and he don’t look like he’s gonna make it…? Looking forward to see what happens next.

    • Hey Lil John, W just called me and asked me to correct your sorry-ass English. He said it’s not homicidation (he has nothing against gays); it’s homicidationatory! Thank you!

  4. ‘Da Animal’s Kilt Um”

  5. Once again William, you have given us some incredibly vivid descriptions of characters that almost seem real. Some of the lines you’ve written sound almost like Lewis Grizzard. That ‘s a compliment by the way. I can’t wait to see which character your fertile imagination rolls out next. Is this going to be a dramatic or comedic novel? I can see it being a combination of both. You have a real gift for story telling in that grand old Southern tradition that I used to hear from the old folks in my hometown.

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