We stopped at McDonald’s on our way out of town. Normally if we needed food we would just do the drive-thru but I had to take a leak and we were ahead of schedule to meet Landry and Miller at the lake so we went in.
Behind us in line were two kids. One was maybe 13 and the other one nine years old. They both looked dirty and their hair was shaggy and greasy. I didn’t see parents anywhere. The older boy had a look in his eye that shouldn’t have been there on a kid his age. We ordered and got our food and went and sat at a booth where we could see the car and make sure no one messed with the canoe.
The kids sat down at a table a few feet away and silently got to eating. I was halfway through my second burger when I looked over and saw that their tray was already clean. The younger boy was straining across the table trying to say something to the other boy without making any sound. His brother hardened his mouth toward him and glared.
I finished my burgers and my soda but left most of my fries. I pushed my tray away and put my elbows on the table.
“This weather looks good, eh?â€ I said.
“Yeah. We’re gonna slay ‘em,â€ Charlie said.
Suddenly one of the kids, the older one, was standing next to me.
“You gonna eat those?â€ He pointed to my fries.
I met his eyes and they were steady but seemed to look out from deep.
“No, go ahead.â€
He took them and turned to go back to his table and I got my wits.
“You guys okay?â€ I asked.
He stopped and looked back at me over his shoulder. Almost like he’d been anticipating the question. Or one just as dumb.
“I’m fine. Just hungry and if you ain’t gonna eat ‘em.â€
“No, that’s okay. That’s fine. Where are your folks?â€
“My mom’s at work.â€
“You guys on your own for dinner or something?â€
“What time does she work until?â€
He sat down and put the fries in the middle of the table and he and his little brother started eating them. I looked back at Charlie, who looked at me, and we didn’t say anything. I drank the rest of my soda.
“Should we get going?â€ Charlie asked.
When we walked by their table I wanted to make sure they’d be okay. The restaurant seemed very empty and quiet. I didn’t say anything and as I walked toward the door the kid said, “Thanks.â€ I looked back and he pointed to the fries and I nodded and went out.
The fishing that night was good. The bass were in the lilies real shallow. You had to almost bounce your popper off the shore to get it in the right spot. None of them were too big but they were big enough.
It was a long summer evening with a beautiful sunset. We were on a favorite little lake of ours north of town. Nothing special. At one end of the lake a small dairy farm sat on the hill and its pastures came down to the water. The rest of it was all wooded and the low angle of the sun lit the trees nice and the night was quiet. We paddled across the lake and fished that shore and there were lots of fish. We paddled up and down the shore about 25 feet out as slow as we could, working each rising fish, each edge of lilies, each sunken stump.
Charlie and I were in my canoe and Landry and Miller in Miller’s. We talked about the kinds of stuff you talk about when fishing a lake at sunset: fish and fishing, the trees and the sky, told some of the old stories again. Only once did the subject of the kids come up.
“Don’t know what I think about those kids,â€ Charlie said.
“Yeah? I don’t know either. I don’t know what we were supposed to do.â€
“Suppose we could have asked if they wanted to go fishing.â€
A week later I was on the mower on the fourteenth fairway. It was mid-morning, which for me was mid-day. Some guys I saw out there every day about that time appeared on the tee box and I maneuvered off into the trees to get out of their way. I took a drink of water and sat back in the shade. A ball softly dropped onto the fairway thirty yards away. I thought of that joke the comedian Mitch Hedberg used to tell, “I went golfing once. I hit a guy. I guess you’re supposed to yell ‘fore’ when you hit the ball, but I was too busy thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m gonna hit that guy!’â€
About an hour later I parked my mower in the trees and walked over to the maintenance building to eat lunch. Charlie was there and I sat down next to him.
“I talked to Miller and he said he wanted to up to Shoe tonight,â€ Charlie said.
“Sounds good to me.â€
“You don’t want to try for the river or Round Lake or something else?â€
“Nah, I don’t think so. It’s a ways. Do you?â€
“One of these days we should get up to the river.â€
“Yeah. You want to go to Shoe anyway?â€
“Yeah. You need to stop at the apartment after we get out of here?â€
“I think I’ve got everything in my car. You?â€
“I think I’m set.â€
We met back at the maintenance building at 3:00 and went out. Charlie got his stuff from his car and put it in mine and we left. My dad’s aluminum canoe was tied on top. I had decided there was no point in taking it off this summer except to put it in water. He never had. The only driving I ever did was from the apartment to the golf course, which was maybe 10 minutes, or sometimes downtown for a beer, or over to Miller and Landry’s after work to grill and play cards, or we went fishing. It was nice having the canoe with me when I went places.
updated: part two