Jack and the Skunk
“ When Jack first saw the skunk she was nothing more than a foul stink, a tail disappearing behind a dumpster, a glowing white stripe rippling over black grass in the dark of night. ”
You may have noticed I didn’t post an installment of Jack and the Skunk last week. This was NOT MY SISTER AND BLOG PUBLISHER’S FAULT! (She may or may not be taking advantage of her creative editing license to inform you of this). Well okay it was maybe a little bit her fault, but mostly we just got a little behind on every step of the publishing process last week and before we knew it was Tuesday. And horror of horrors to publish an “Any Given Monday” blog post on a Tuesday, so instead it seemed only proper at that point to wait the week out entirely.
In any case, here is the latest installment of Jack & the Skunk. It’s an extra long one to make up for lost time. Let me know your thoughts!
Have a wonderful Monday,
Jack and the Skunk
When Jack got back to the campgrounds it was drizzling slightly and there were no campers there, except for Fishok. Fishok was a scrawny man with bleary eyes and a thin beard. He always wore a yellow plastic rain hat that slouched low over his left eye. When he was younger, a fishing line hit him in that eye, piercing clean through the lid and leaving a tiny white scar on the retina. Fishok made regular appearances at Armstrong Campgrounds, every few months or so, coming with an umbrella and without camping gear, drifting up to other people’s fires to heat his food. No one knew where he slept. He spent his days fishing in Salmon Lake. Most people considered Fishok a nuisance because of his poor conversational habits and his disconcerting way of looking at a person without blinking his left eye, but Jack did not mind him. Jack sometimes sat by the lake while Fishok fished. As far as Jack knew, Fishok had never caught anything in that lake. Salmon Lake did not have any fish in it. But it never stopped Fishok from trying.
Normally Jack would not have cared to sit outside with Fishok in bad weather. Tonight, though, he had no desire to sit in his trailer alone. Jack removed a lawn chair from the storage shed and the squirrel from the bathroom. Fishok did not say anything when Jack sat down. He rarely said anything; was sparing to the point of rudeness with his words, always seemed to be meditating on how to use as few of them as possible. He would answer other people’s questions, but never asked any of his own. Jack did not mind this; he considered Fishok’s utter lack of curiosity convenient. Fishok showed no surprise at all, for example, when Jack took a starving squirrel from one pocket and a damp snake from the other and set them both on the ground before Fishok’s campfire.
They sat silently together for some time: the four of them. The squirrel and the snake seemed dazed by their surroundings. Fishok stared into the campfire, chewing on the end of a stick. Jack worried about his squirrel. It was barely drizzling, but Jack thought maybe it should not get wet. The squirrel, however, did not seem to notice the rain. It sat by Jack’s feet, staring into the fire with an expression as inscrutable as Fishok’s. The firelight reflected in the black roundness of its eyes. In contrast, the snake soon began to slither back and forth restlessly between Jack’s boots. It was terrified of the fire, alarmed by the rain. Jack felt a momentary pang of conscience for having subjected it to surroundings that, to a snake, were probably cruel. But he reflected that he had brought the snake here to be eaten alive by a squirrel, and that worrying over its reaction to the weather was probably inconsistent.
Fishok spoke suddenly.
“Sure is drizzling,” he said, removing the stick from his mouth and looking at Jack.
“Sure is,” Jack agreed, startled. It was rare for Fishok to speak of his own accord. Usually, Fishok liked to limit conversation to two word replies only, using the same two words wherever possible: “Oh, sure.” But tonight he paused, looking at Jack. The stick hovered several inches from his mouth.
“Saw your wife the other day,” Fishok said, finally. He put the stick back in his mouth and turned back to the fire. Jack was startled.
“You did?” said Jack.
“Where did you see her?” Fishok took his time answering.
“Grocery market,” he finally drawled, shifting the stick from one side of his mouth to the other.
“Which grocery market?”
Jack was worried. As far as he knew, Fishok did not live close to the campgrounds. In fact, he did not know where Fishok lived. He had never asked.
Fishok concentrated carefully on the end of his stick, removing a damp splinter from the jagged end he had been gnawing on.
“Kirk’s,” Fishok eventually replied.
“But where is Kirk’s Grocery Market?”
A faint frown appeared in Fishok’s forehead. He seemed to be counting words in his head.
“North,” Fishok finally said. “More or less.”
Jack had a sudden desire to kill Fishok, and leave his body at the bottom of Salmon Lake.
“What was my wife buying?” Jack asked, trying another tactic. Fishok removed the stick from his mouth, slowly, and turned to Jack with a pained expression.
“What kind of bread?”
Jack’s wife did not usually buy bread. She did not care for it; preferred potatoes, rice. She rarely used bread except when she made sandwiches. Usually, the sandwiches were for Jack.
“Are you sure it was bread?” Jack demanded. Two slim veins had begun to stand out, throbbing slightly on either side of Fishok’s forehead. Jack wished he could take that forehead and wring out the information out by force.
“How do you know it was bread?” Jack repeated. “How do you know it was my wife?”
The fire was dying down now. The squirrel slumped against Jack’s boot. It had not eaten the snake. Of all possibilities, it seemed much more likely that the snake would eat the squirrel. Fishok rose from his chair and stepped on the remains of the campfire, crushing out its light. He looked at Jack with eyes full of gentle reproach.
“I know it was bread,” said Fishok. “because that’s what I was buying, too. I know it was your wife, because she was standing on my right.” Fishok put his hat on. “That’s the side I can see on.”
Fishok pulled the hat low over his eye, picked up his campstool and hoisted his fishing rod to his shoulder. As he ambled silently away into the woods, Jack reflected that it was the longest speech he had ever heard Fishok make.
(To be continued…)