“Naw. Moon’ll be up afore long.”
As though Joe had called it up, the moon sailed over the cliff, lighting the water to a luminous green, and silvered down the middle with a path that beckoned us on between the black silhouettes of leaning trees, into the unknown. “Pull in here, boy.”
I fought the oars and brought the boat in raggedly just a little below the rock that held the line, glad the darkness hid the flush creeping up my neck.
Joe reached out, grabbed a rock, and eased the boat upstream. He grasped the end of the trotline, ran it through his fingers to the first hook, baited it with a wriggling minnow, and let it slip back into the water behind us. He pulled the boat along by the line now, and I rested the oars on the side of the boat, reaching into the bucket to hand him a minnow as he came to each hook.
“Where’d you come from, Joe?” Raymond’s question made me realize that I had forgotten him again, that I had been so satisfied with Joe’s company I hadn’t thought to ask about his history. Now I found myself listening eagerly for his answer.
Joe bent over the line, his fingers deftly slipping minnows on the hooks, mending a frayed place, and once, dropping a moon-silvered mudcat into the hand net and dumping it into the bottom of the boat. His mouth was as tight-closed as a river mussel. Raymond’s question had died and been quietly buried before we reached our bank and Joe motioned me downstream to the next line.
“Must have a shady past, or he wouldn’t mind tellin’ us about it,” Raymond grumbled later as he and I made our way home through the dark. I could tell he wasn’t going to let the question rest; so I wasn’t surprised when he resurrected it later that week.
We were carrying the wooden dead-fall traps for Joe, apples to bait them weighing down our pockets, while he identified trees, plants, and insects for us, some I’d never heard of before. Some of the names I suspected he made up, but he seemed to know how most of them fit into nature’s scheme of things.