Paddy the Albino
A river hog in the mid 1800’s, Northern Michigan
I’ve been poked at plenty all my life, born hairless and white as a cloud, but let me tell you straight that when I was out there driving sticks with the lumberjacks it wasn’t the fact of my skin or even my first name — Paddy, sounding like a name for any other Irishman come north to cut out and get out — but the fact that I couldn’t help crossing myself every time I ambled onto those logs.
I had my wits and I had my pride so you can bet I’d be the first jack out there for the spring drive, rigging the flyboom and passing out peaveys. And once the key log had been tagged and all the others came tumbling off the rollway, ice popping like old bones, snow swallowed into the cold, brown river, there wasn’t a moment to hesitate.
Except that I did. Every time. And not for lack of enthusiasm but instead for the fact that I didn’t know how to swim. Big Duck Creek was wheelin’ for Lake Michigan by springtime and even with my real Chippewa boots I felt certain the creek wanted to sink me whole, send me down the chutes and into the wide open jaws of a sturgeon.
That’s when I started crossing myself. One foot on the sticks, another on dry land; the arms of God be ‘round my shoulders. Then two feet, side by each, moving in slick circles as the logs rolled beneath my boots, hungry water biting at my heels. Let it be known that I never once drowned my peavey on the open waters. That I never once lost footing, the arms of God be ‘round my shoulders. That though I crossed myself at every bend in the river, I kept two eyes on the current. That on my first drive, I saw a man clamped halfway underwater in a jam, the entire river pressing logs into his guts. He begged me to shoot him, the arms of God be ‘round my shoulders, Heaven’s company upon my lips. I rolled on by, the logs grabbing at him like teeth.
Let it also be known that when our work was done, there would be walking, always the walking. Sometimes eight to ten miles back to the wanagan for chuck. By then the ground felt foreign beneath my boots. I refused its steadiness; walked with a bobbing motion for want of something that floated.
In the bunkhouse, my body was given to sleep no matter the circumstance. I dreamt I was an all white fish, pure muscle and fin. The logs formed a floating roof above my head, their groaning finally muted into soft sloshing. The steel tips of peaveys jabbed into the water like rusted bolts of lightning. An occasional boot heel dipped beneath the water’s surface. I muscled against the current, unstoppable, glowing, until I saw that man with his legs trapped beneath the water. The way he moved as if in slow motion, a horrible, silent dance; I saw him. The way he died, running nowhere.
* * *
-Katey Schultz is Associate Editor of TRACHODON, a dinosaur of a little magazine. Her stories have appeared in Fiction Daily, Perigee, Driftwood, Writers’ Dojo, and more. Achievements include the Linda Flowers Literary Prize, Press 53 Open Award for Short Story, Whispering Prairie Press Prize for Flash Fiction, and 2nd place in the River Styx MicroFiction Contest. She will spend 2010–2012 attending writing residencies across the United States, working on a collection of short stories. Follow her travels here.
Image courtesy of http://ipoetry.us.