I told Chris that I was going to see my father and he aimed the Crown Vic west on I-10 for the 25 minute drive that took us to the bayou boat slip north of La Place. I didn’t like being up before noon and was in no mood for Chris’s bubbly humor and he knew it. He spared me and we made the trip in silence until he dropped me off at a boat slip on the north end of town and said that he’d be back for me in a couple hours. I rented a belly boat with a five horse Aquabug motor and slid into the steaming bayou on a course for Esteen’s cabin.
I don’t like the bayou and nothing that lives there likes me. Except my father. I don’t like bugs, and there are some there that aren’t in any biology book. Every snake I motored by was poisonous and the gators never showed themselves completely but showed me their eyes and splashed their tails to let me know they were there and waiting. I remembered little of my four years in Minnesota, but I still had flashes of forest and clear cool lakes. I dwelt on those as I looked for the landmarks that led me to the cabin that was still a ways off.
I saw my father sitting on the deck as I cut the engine and drifted up to the dock. Since Miss Jovetta died, Esteen moved back to the swamps and had no communication with the outside world. If someone needed him, they could come to him. He took her death hard. His once short brush-cut silver hair had grown to his collar like a silver mane and he had become ill tempered. But his mind was in- tact. His gun metal gray eyes pierced as intensely as ever.
He was sitting in the ornate antique wheelchair that we left behind when he lifted Miss Jovetta into the canoe to take her to the “Big House” almost three years earlier. The foot paddles were tucked in and the wheels had been locked. It had become his deck chair. It had ornate handles with a raised carving of a gator wrapped in a snake on each and I still marveled at the craftsmanship as a walked up and sat in an old lawn chair beside him.
“Yes , Sir.”
“Okay. Let’s smoke first.”
He stepped into the cabin then and came back in a moment with two black coffees and set them on the top of the crawfish trap he had flipped up on end as a table between the chairs. He took out the makings and deftly rolled a cigarette in the time that it took me to reach in my pocket, shake a Marlboro out of the pack, and light it.
We smoked in silence and listened to the morning sounds and watched the swamp things move in and out of the shadows of the stunted cypress. We saw a Macaw with a flame-orange chest and fire engine red wings land silently in the highest tree.
“Must have been someone’s pet.”
After a while, I went in the cabin, refilled our coffees and we smoked in silence again. I had been there for thirty minutes before he turned to me and said,
“What ails you? You have to leave and play in the darkness some more, oui?”
My father has seen the darkness that people do and although he tries to keep to himself, he’s never far from it. He wants me to have a brighter simpler life, but I just can’t see that happening. I’m young, but I don’t see a future of me as a citizen.
I laid out everything I’d discussed with the hunter lady. He sat silently, smoking and drinking coffee. His eyes never left mine and he listened intently. He had always given me his full attention and likewise, as he was teaching me about life, I regarded him with the same attention.