Excerpt from Chlora’s Book of the Month Club: July and May
Draft 1, copyright 2014, Ginger Henry Geyer
In July, Chlora’s family is on a short vacation at the lake,
where she is playing around the boat dock and fishing boat...
Dad’s open tackle box was left out to dry
on the ramp to the dock.
He had dropped it in the water
when getting out of the fishing boat.
It sunk, hook, line, and sinker,
being heavy metal and chock full of stuff.
Luckily it was shallow there and he could fish it out.
Had he been out in the deeps,
that box of goods would be
forever stuck in Davy Jones’ locker.
Now the contents were dripping
and jumbled up, the tackle mixed with the pliers,
the lines and hooks tangled
around the wigglers, red and white bobbers
bobbing about, and
gummy worms squirming out of their trays.
Real earthworms were writhing in a jar,
like they were at a cocktail party.
Most everything was water-friendly, of course.
except his poetic license to kill
and his river map.
They were soggy but salvageable,
as were all the tall tales which took a dunking.
The net off the side of the boat did a flop.
Chlora jumped as a big fish tail slapped the water.
No way she’d touch that big fish.
It rolled over and it enormous mouth gaped open,
big as all get-out. Her cousin Harry squealed that he
couldn’t wait to chop off that big head.
Chlora did not want to be around for the decapitation
and flaying. She’d seen that before.
They’d stick the big fish’s tail on a clipboard
whack off its head and rub it down with a scraper.
The fish body would flop among all the scales, goo,
and yellow bags full of tiny eggs,
its gills still gasping for oxygen,
its mouth opening and closing, its big eyes
stone still as if indicting the perpetrator.
All the spare parts would go overboard
making a disgusting mess in the water,
and then they’d rinse off the fillets
as if the lake water would clean them.
The whole process was smelly
and bloody and sticky, and they’d be telling
their slippery stories as they worked.
Uncle Bill said that the whopper
got himself hooked and swam
under the boat, tangling up all the fishing lines,
like they were metaphors or something.
That fish didn’t wanna be caught,
and he fought the whole way in,
then they almost lost him while taking the hook
out of his thin lower lip.
He made it sound exciting
but Chlora knew better.
She had spent many long hours
drowning worms to no avail.
Fishing was boring even if it was
all through the Bible, even if it was done
with your nice uncle.
St. Peter was a good fisherman apparently.
He took fishing lessons from Jesus
and he became his net.
When he first met Jesus,
his net got so full it split open.
But later, upon seeing the resurrected
Christ, the net overfilled and it held.
That was certainly not boring,
but what was that supposed to mean?
Jesus told those disciples to venture out
into the deeps and cast the net wide
and sure enough they got a miraculous catch
of 153 kinds of fish, everything the big blue sea
offered, scooped into one net.
Uncle Bill told Harry to leave that trophy fish alone.
They weren’t gonna eat him
but get him stuffed to the gills,
mounted, and hung on the wall.
Now this was a frightening probability
if you were a twelve pound bass.
No wonder they fought it so hard.
You could be forever seen with
a beer can crammed in your mouth,
or forever chasing the same, poor minnow
whose perpetual state of fear
gave Chlora the chills.
It had to be no fun to be
a fish out of water.
She couldn’t fathom such a thing.
Why couldn’t proud fishermen just stick
a Christian fish symbol on their car,
or better yet, on their boat,
and leave the trophy fish alone?
But then Jesus liked to eat fish too, and
he had a special breakfast fish fry on the seashore
for the tired disciples who were most grateful.
And Chlora had to admit she loved
Mom’s fried fish with hushpuppies.
It wasn’t easy being a hypocrite.
Months later, in May, Dad gives Chlora his beleagured
tackle box and some used oil paints to put in it.
Dad called Chlora into his workshop.
This was a favorite place for both of them,
full of tools and smells and good potential.
Dad liked to build stuff in here,
he was good at giving second chances,
especially fixing up things
that weren’t even broken yet.
He collected all sorts of
interesting junk just in case he needed it.
Sometimes he took Chlora on clandestine
walks through houses under construction
and they’d collect boards and scrap material from
the dumpster. He called it reframing the story.
The workshop was a good place for an attitude adjustment.
“Chlora, that lady down the block had a garage sale
and I bought you a bag full of oil paints and brushes.
she said she didn’t need them anymore.
Some of them are half-squeezed,
but she said it was still good paint
and she was happy to sell it to me for only a dollar,
even though the reds alone were worth a fortune.
I figure since you’ve had a hankering to paint,
you could learn how to use it.
And if you want it, you can have
my old fishing tackle box to put it all in.
Gives me an excuse to get
a new plastic tackle box that floats.”
Chlora was thrilled.
Dad was fond of that tackle box;
it had been his mother’s, whose name
was stenciled on the back.
He had repaired the leather handle
and cleaned out all the compartments.
He handed her a bulging plastic bag.
It ripped open like a net full of fish when she took it.
Out rolled several brands of paint tubes
and a small bottle of linseed oil which
smelled good enough to eat.
Maybe it was used for anointing.
"The lady told me to tell you to
paint fat over lean.
I don’t know what that means,
but maybe is like
Jack Sprat could eat no fat
and his wife could eat no lean,
and so between the two of them,
they licked the platter clean."
"She said to get you some gum turpentine,
the pure kind distilled from pine trees.
I have some here in the workshop,
Here, take a sniff.
Now you know this stuff is flammable
and you shouldn’t be breathing
but a twinge of turpentine up the nostrils is
an olfactory welcome that greets an artist
like the smell of coffee greets a sleepyhead."
"Plus, she threw in a wooden palette
but you’ll have to scrape it off."
Chlora gathered up the tubes of paint.
Some were heavier than others,
some were greasy.
"Why did she want to get rid of her art supplies?"
“She just said a woman’s work is never done
and that she hadn’t quit but she was redirecting.
She said to tell you that making art
is a work in progress, like a calling.
Come to think of it, so’s fishing.
Fishing and painting, they both take patience
they both require searching.”
"Yeah, but I don’t like fishing."
“Well, she also said you always won’t like painting
either, if you’re really an artist."
"I don’t know what to paint,
not sure I have anything to say."
"Well, you can always paint fish.
We know you’ve got talent
which is the same as liquified trouble,
as you well demonstrated recently
when using your bed for a studio."
Chlora had ruined her bedspread,
pillow and carpet all in one fell swoop
attempting to paint with enamels.
She’d become frustrated with paint-by-numbers kits
and wanted to blend some colors.
Art making is a mess, so what.
Attempts to purify it usually resulted
in minimalism which was good if
you needed to cleanse your palate
and have some visual quiet.
But it became redundant on purpose
and Chlora preferred maximalism.
Starting is scary when you’re emerging.
How long do you get to emerge?
Is there more to it than expressing yourself?
Can you turn love into art?
Chlora wanted to ask these questions,
but art was a foreign object stuck in her throat.
"Last thing, Chlora, she gave you this picture of
a Michelangelo, said that feeding off
of the masters breeds your work.
Michelangelo left this one unfinished,
probably for some good reason.
Maybe it’s waiting for you to complete it,
like most great art does.
Lets you fill in the blanks.
You’re worried about starting,
soon you’ll worry about finishing.
Both are acts of trust
cause you gotta care enough to quit
but leave it open.
That artist Turner,
he’d be putting final touches on his pictures
right up until the exhibition opened."
"Dad, how do you know so much about painting?"
"I don’t, but I figure its kinda like fishing:
you gotta be still and know,
know when to cut bait.
Both can be acts of discipleship
as they’re guaranteed to teach you humility.
Generosity, that’s what art supplies.
You might go in the kitchen and find
a coffee can for those paint brushes.
Mom’s got plenty of empties.
Then, go call up that lady for some art lessons."