All the corn had been buffered from the cobs and the husks ground into nix for the hogs. This earned Joe Dufo Tuesday afternoons off from his chores. When school was out he raced home to enjoy his brief freedom.
Grain Dufo allowed his son to drive the Ford 8-N tractor as long as it wasn't needed to tow the hay truck through the muddy pits that formed around the animal pens. Joe relished the relief from his thirty milking teats and the purging of honeybee hives. He liked to spend his free time down at the creek that traversed the south end of Low Melody Farm.
It was a calm creek for nine months of the year. Then early spring soakings changed its friendly meander into a swollen snake-full of rage and thrashing its newly discovered bulk about. Runoff from the soggy pastures was like an enema-flushing and cleansing all the loose cockadoo from the Farm. When the pouring of the heavens overran the creek, every Little Ned from two counties came to cast night crawlers into the brown swill that collected just beyond the highway culvert.
The Low Melody corner post stood at another favorite spot where this creek and another converged to form Caddo Pool. Having Caddo Pool inside the property lines of Low Melody was like owning a reserved parking spot at the County Fair. All the Little Neds had to stand at its confluence and seek permission to enter. Joe Dufo denied them all.
"Caddo Pool is but for me," he said, with a smile that revealed a missing front tooth-a consequence of falling from the hayloft. Many of the Neds cursed him and showered stones at him as they stomped away to seek other spots to net their fishes.
Joe Dufo did not worry about their ire. He knew the Neds were fickle. As soon as the fat creek returned to but a tinkle, all of them would retreat to Hank Aaron Park for the summer. Joe once read about the park in the newspaper. The article told about Smokin' Barney Canson leading off the baseball season with a game-winning double into left field. Final score-5-3 versus Harleton, the neighboring town where Clovis Red Bibb was supposed to wield a mighty hickory bat. Clovis went 0-3 against a better pair of knickers.
Joe Dufo preferred his most hated chore to Hank Aaron kinds of "rule games." He would rather shovel pig cockadoo than play organized games of folly. He relished the unexpected adventures that always awaited him at Low Melody.
Joe looked forward to his 8-N rides every Tuesday. He rode past the cow pens and past the sign that said, "No Trespassing-Even With Permission." The sign was fair notice to the Bowers boys who often tried to ravage the Low Melody fields of deer and other game. At neighbor LeMaster's pond, the Bowers boys had begged once to fish and then crank-telephoned the waters to steal all but its lowly mud turtles.
The weekly ride to Caddo Pool was his favorite. This day he saw that the water was full of squirming new fish that had escaped the creeks before they dried. He cast about, catching a few then turning them back-having little enthusiasm.
Joe was preoccupied with thought. He couldn't free his mind of something he learned at school. In his bib pocket was the lesson note he made in Miss Happy Herndon's history class. He had written it down-it was something she read to the class about a war general named Patton. Joe retrieved the note and read it again. In gist it said that after winning a host of heralded battles, a scribe whispered a warning in Patton's ear. It was the same warning once passed to Caesar:
"All fame is fleeting," said the scribe.
Joe was pondering the warning when he noted with some alarm that Caddo Pool was something less than two-thirds the size of just two weeks ago. He had noted its level by the lone spine of a Devil's Spear, which was growing between the sandstone shelf and the water. The spine was half-a-pig higher above the water than it was before. For a minute Joe thought about raising the pool with fresh water from the well. Then he remembered his father's lecture about the precious sanctity of their water:
"Purity, clarity-reserved strictly for the feathery throats of honest toil and to cleanse the sweat from able brow," his father had said. Maybe there was a way around the rule, but not today. The encroaching dusk had begun to dim his view of the pool and whatever possible remedy he might have discovered for it. He cranked the tractor for home.
It was both sour and hot. It seared his gums and he dared not swallow its vile juice. Joe had stolen a domino-sized bolt of his father's Red Tag Chewing Tobacco from the cupboard and had ingested its might. It was repulsive-but invigorating-because it sharpened his sense of awareness. The 8-N ran more smoothly today-as if refreshed by some stimulant of its own. He herded its purr down to the rock shelf above Caddo Pool for the fourth time in as many weeks. He spat into the water and it seemed as though hundreds of swirls embraced it in panic.
*Odd,* he thought. The pool was not much more than a bathtub now. He saw fish careening about, desperately seeking a path of escape from the shrinking boundaries. It came upon him that he might rescue them-net them and put them in the big iron-ore pond. But the memory of another of his fathers' rules choked his relish:
"Don't bring no more goldurn blasted varmints up here," his father had said.
Joe started the 8-N and headed for the barn. As he drove through the pine grove into the meadow he was still thinking about saving the fish. But there was little room to guess about the meaning of his father's rule. It reminded him of the time his father whopped him good on the noggin. It was the time he turtled out one last smelly popper-after his father had told him not to fart again in the Nova. Some rules had no crawl space.
And there was a larger more frightening threat if Joe tried to conceal transplanting the fish-even if he allowed that fish were not varmints:
"Be sure your sins will find you out," his mother once warned. These were words spoken from pursed lips-lips that once were fuller. Joe noticed that as his mother grew older, most of her features had wandered around on her face, changing sizes and colors. Her lips were shrunken now, settling well beneath her lifelong beehive hairdo.
His mother's warning about the disclosures of all sin had been punctuated with her pointer finger-leveled right at Joe Dufo's middle. The possibility of discovery of all of his secrets rushed forth as the purest form of fright-pouring over his face like warm concrete. He was thinking about his Special Times in the locked bathroom.
All this surfacing fear had his stomach moving on centipede legs toward his throat. Joe turned back the tide of vomit by thinking of fig preserves. His mama's fig preserves were saved back special for happy times-like the time he got a C in arithmetic.
The last week of school passed and Joe found Caddo Pool even smaller. The fish were at its surface, pecking wisps of air and then diving away quickly as if to conceal their certain defeat. The north end of the pool had already become skunky. It emitted a gassy stench that reminded Joe of the crotch part of his weeklong gym shorts. Most of the fingerlings were missing from their once-swelled ranks. The big fish Joe had named Mr. Majestic must have consumed most of the little ones. But even Mr. M was surrendering now. He was breathing in staccato gasps on the surface of what was becoming an ever- thickening muck.
The 8-N chummed to a halt and lurched forward to seize the next cog in the gear. Joe dismounted to survey the pool. It looked like gray palette with no colored crayons. Along its cracking floor were scores of tiny-fingered imprints from coon and possum paw. Caddo Pool was now a septic of ghosts. The large fish was gone-as were the last of his faithful. Not even bones were left to someday cite the history of Mr. Majestic's last struggle.
It was exactly as the scribe said: All fame is fleeting.