Killing time in Nashville

Tommy’s search gets put on hold so he takes a walk by the river

      I get in my car and drive to the river. I park in a lot and try to nap. I can’t sleep. I get out and step through weeds and gravel and trash, and cross the tracks until I am under the shadow of the Shelby Street Bridge. I hear the clank clank of the cars and the ruffling of pigeons roosting on the girders overhead. Below, I see an old colored man in a skiff on the river. He hauls in a trotline and comes up with five or six catfish.
      I take the footpath down to the water. I tread between knotted-up coils of fishing line, dog turds, and broken glass. The old man has tied up his boat. He steps onto the bank and gives me a nod as we meet.
      “What are you using for bait?” I ask.
      “Mostly days-old chicken livers, gizzards, and hearts. Them cats like stinky stuff.”
      The old man holds a catfish from behind its pectoral fins, and he sets it on a broad piece of driftwood. The cat opens and shuts its mouth and raises its spines. Then the man clubs it upside the head with the handle end of a hammer.
      “You not from around here,” he says.
      “No, I’m from Memphis.”
      He mutters something, picks up a sixty-penny nail and hammers it through the head of the fish. He uses a pair of pliers to rip the skin off the cat. After he peels it, he works the nail back and forth till he can pull it out. He grips the naked catfish and pokes the tip of his knife into its gullet. He runs the edge of the blade toward its anus, cutting a vent from which the cat’s innards pour out in a wad of gore.
      “So Memphis? What you doin’ this aways?”
      “Looking for a girl.”
      “She run off on you?”
      “No. Nothing like that.”
      He makes a humph sound. Then he wipes his knife on the leg of his pants and wraps the fish in a sheet of newspaper. The old man speaks while he does the same to the rest of his catch.
      “Bud, lemme tell you somethin’ ’bout women. They got this sixth sense. Let’s ’em see things plain as day. The problem is they think we see ’em, too. You see where I’m goin’ with this?”
      I smile and nod my head.
      “So this girl who run off on you.”
      “She didn’t run off on me. Her daddy hired me to find her.”
      The old colored man laughs as he picks up his parcel of papered cats.
      “Okay, bud. I see you don’t wanna be helped. That your perogativ’. But if it was me I’d study on what this girl done see that you don’t.”
      The fisherman shoves off in his boat. He gives me a wave and calls out, “Open your eyes, bud. Open your eyes!”

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