External Photo Clues:
PrintStamp – 6/54
“And that,” Ava dealt the photo onto the Duncan Phyfe tabletop like it was the final card in a high-stakes game of Twenty-One, “is a reeeaaal Southern agriculturalist, taking a fine-weather day from his crop-tending to catch some fish! He was so kind to let us take his picture, would you just LOOK at that cane pole?” She peered over her reading glasses at her bridge group assembled around the table. They stared intently at the photograph as though it were unlocking the mysteries of life and they should take care to soak in every bit of magic it had to offer them. It was Ava’s turn to host, she had made the refreshments, and they were determined to act interested.
Ava Musgrave and her sister, Abigail Musgrave Willowbrook, had recently returned from a rip-roarin’ road trip in their brand new Oldsmobile Super 88 Convertible they purchased with their father’s estate money he’d left them. He had just died last month, but to their disbelief, he had all his papers in order and had left them “more money than God had ever possessed.” They grieved his death, made proper arrangements, and sent appropriate thank you notes to all those kind souls who had so graciously helped them ‘through the darkest hour of their lives.’
But once the bills had been paid, their family had left town and they had neatly put in order all things required of a family during the Bereavement Period, they met downstairs in the kitchen for almost five hours on a Sunday night and had the longest talk of their lives. By the end of that discussion, they had agreed to co-purchase an automobile, a new one, and drive down to New Orleans to see what the Mardi Gras was all about.
They devised a plan to tell everyone they knew that they were going on a historical tour of the Great Southern plantations and mansions, and then agreed to take NO photographs of the Mardi Gras festivities, the city of New Orleans, or any of the sites they’d heard about in that “decadent city.” After years of being proper New Englanders, and living under the constant scrutiny of their aging (and now both dead) parents, they were looking forward to having the devil-may-care time of their lives. And they did just that. A year later, Ava would find Abigail in the parlor holding a strand of Mardi Gras beads up to the window’s light, reminiscing over their excursion. Abigail reluctantly took them to the refuse bin, having been chastised by her sister after the discovery for much longer than was reasonable. In HER opinion.
“Well, he certainly was a fine sport to tease about the tiny fish he had snagged!” exclaimed their bridge group’s newest member. Eager for the pile of photos to mercifully end, the other three looked at her like she had somehow shattered their magic moment, quickly changed the subject, and oohed and ahhed over the rest of the photographs the sisters had taken of the great and glorious plantations in the South. The newest member protested, “Well, – that fisherman – he just looked so jolly! He didn’t know you two from Adam, and obliged to have his photo taken with nary a care in the world…tell us about how you managed that?!”
Ava squirmed in her chair. She wasn’t prepared for her bridge group to ask questions about the photographs, or even worse, strike up a conversation about them. If they were going to ask about the real photo they took of the fisherman, what might the members ask about the plantation photos they had cunningly purchased from a tourism store? She looked at Abigail nervously who took the cue. “We have spent way too much time on these silly pictures of our travels, haven’t we? Let’s have our refreshments and start the game. I’m famished!”
If they had known, however, anything about that fisherman, they would never, ever have shown the photo to their friends. Ava and Abigail were simply too proper to dwell on that kind of horrifying information. After all, they owned a hat and glove shop in New Haven, Connecticut, and for people to think they uttered those kinds of stories at their bridge parties would compromise the very foundation of their beloved business. Had they only known that…
Cooper Raiborn was the fisherman’s name. His wife had just died tragically on the very same date the Musgrave sisters lost their father, drowned in the river in which he was now fishing. Cooper had traveled to the river every day since she died. Taking along his cane pole, he fished aimlessly – for hours – throwing back anything he caught. Unlike Ava and Abigail, however, he hadn’t paid attention at the funeral, he hadn’t written any thank you notes (his wife would have taken care of that for him), and he hadn’t spoken to the bewildered family who had come from out of town and were currently staying in his spare bedroom. Cooper Raiborn was lost, alone, dismayed, in despair, and couldn’t function in any way but to put his hat and overalls on every day and walk to the bridge to fish. He felt compelled to return to the place of his wife’s death again and again although every bone in his body urged him otherwise.
He had been fishing on an exceptionally fine day for early March when he heard a car stop by the wayside. The two chattering occupants approached him, waving their gloved hands. Somewhere between the hellos, and the “isn’t this a beautiful day for March?” he heard them ask to take his picture. Something snapped inside Cooper. His dull, grieving thoughts suddenly became crystal clear – fueled by the anger that had been building up inside him since his wife’s death. He turned around, lifted the clear line of his pole from which the meager fish dangled, and stared at the sisters. In a split second, they had taken his picture, thanked him and left. Cooper, however, remained in that pose for about one minute and twenty-two seconds. In his mind, he was screaming at the strangers. He was telling them everything that he had been keeping inside his heart for much longer than the time span of his wife’s death through that particular moment.
Cooper was thinking with all his might: “You wanna know what grief is? You wanna push yosef intuh mah life and take pitchers of my sadness? My baby gurl dahed when she wuz only one. My only boy dahed heppin’ me bring in the cotton crops only 18 months ago, and my wahf was just swallowed up by this heah God-fersakin’ body of hell water. You wanna know what you kin do wit yer camera? You can turn ’round right now and hightail it off my bridge. You can take yer bony New England backsides outta mah site or ahm gonna make you fish food for dis heah little crittah. I’m gonna let him eat the flesh off ya’lls bones at the bottom of dis watah and be glad I de-ud. Mah wahf….mah wahf.”
At that point Cooper’s synapses stopped firing and two tears began rolling down his cheeks. His arms lowered. He turned around, threw the ‘little crittah’ back into the river, and cast his pole once again. The Musgrave sisters, however, were already a full mile down the road and were talking about stopping for some sweet tea, “a staple of the area.”
About The Author:
Kelly is a clinical instructor at Oklahoma State University, and a marriage and family therapist. She founded the Red Dirt Chronicles in the Summer of 2010 and looks forward to “finding” all the lost family members through this project.
About The Imaginary Family Project:
The 2011 Imaginary Family Project is a year-long collective art endeavor coordinated by occasional amateur artist Quentin Bomgardner and co-sponsored by The Red Dirt Chronicles. This project is based around “lost” vintage photographs, which have been acquired at flea markets, garage sales, estate sales, and eBay – heirloom collections, with no heir. Every week a different author will “find” one photograph by creating an imagined history around one of its subjects. At the end of the year, the collection will be compiled and presented as a group.
Thank you, Kelly, for authoring this great story and helping me co-sponsor this project!