We are down by the river, just the two of us brothers, standing down by the river’s muddy edge, us brothers every once in a while reaching down with our boy hands to pick up some rock up from the riverbank’s mud, to skip these rocks out into the river’s muddy water, when out of somewhere comes this man—Man, us brothers, we will come to call this man—this man comes walking up from behind us brothers, and this man Man, in his man hands, he has two fishing poles sticking out from his big man hands. Man stops in his walking up to us brothers and he stops and stands in front of us brothers, and then Man turns his man back to the river to face off his face with the both of us boys. For you, Boys, Man says, and he holds out from in his man hands these two fishing poles toward us brothers. Go on, take them, this man tells us. They’re yours. But why? and then, What for? are the questions that us brothers ask of this man. To fish with is what this man says to this. We know this, we say, but why would you think to give two fishing poles to us? Man, this man, he gives us two brothers this look at us brothers like he is the man who made us brothers us. Sons, Man says to us. Let me tell you a thing or two about rivers, this man says. A river, Man tells us, when you’re down by a river, Man says, you’ve got to be doing more than just standing there, down by the river, watching the river go on by. Us brothers, us who know this, we give this man a look. You think you can show up one day and tell us brothers what a river is for? is what we are looking at this man with this look. We’ll tell you a thing or two, we want to tell this man, we’ll show you a thing or two, we wish to say, about what a river is to be used for: we think all of this but we do not say it. Fish, is what this man says to us brothers next. To fish with, and this man, he unhooks the silvery hooks hooked to the eyes of these two sticking out from his hands fishing poles and these hooks dangle and hang there looking back at us as if us brothers are a couple of fish. The poles’ silver hooks shine out at us brothers with the shimmery light of something never before seen. Let’s just say, this man says, that I handed you boys a fish, and with this Man digs down with his big man’s hand into his jacket pocket and he fishes out from inside of it a fish. This fish, with its fish eyes looking out at us brothers, it gives us brothers a look. This fish’s open mouth, it is with its fish mouth telling us brothers what to do with this man Man. You boys, this man goes on moving with his mouth, you boys could take this fish from out of my hand and take it home right now to fry it up and eat it. Us brothers, us nodding our boy heads yes, we know that this much is true, what this man Man is saying to us, but we look up at this man, with our eyes widening into moons, as if this is all something brand new to us. But what about tomorrow? is what this man says to us brothers next. And what about the day after tomorrow? Man stands there, like this, with this fish held up in his one hand, waiting for us brothers to say what about the day after tomorrow. Us brothers, we don’t say anything to this man to what about the day after tomorrow. Us brothers, we don’t like to think too much about tomorrow. Us brothers, we are brothers who live in the today. Us brothers, we are brothers who like to wait for tomorrow to come before we start to think at all about it. Man looks his man look down at us brothers and then he gets his mouth ready again to speak. But if I were to give you boys each one of you boys a fishing pole and not just a fish, if I were to teach you boys how to fish, you boys can fish for and you boys can catch fish and eat fish everyday for the rest of your boy lives. Us brothers, the both of us brothers, we nod yes with our boy heads to the picture, to the possibility, of this: we are licking our lips to the thought of this. That sure is a long time is what Brother then says to this. When Brothers says this, this man, Man, with these two fishing poles in his hands, with that fish that he fished out from the inside of his jacket pocket gripped by its gills in one of his hands, this man, he shakes his man head to Brother saying this. Man looks his man eyes down at Brother and he says to us brothers, That’s what you think is what this man says. Before you boys know it, this man says, you two boys will be old just like me. Us brothers, we cannot picture this and so we know that this, it is not true. There will be boys, Man says, who will walk up to you and call you Mister. Man says, There will be little girls who will tug on your sleeve and say, Sir, would you like to buy a box of cookies? To this, to even just the thought of this, we set this man straight. Man, this man who we call Man, he doesn’t know what he’s saying. This man Man, this man doesn’t know who he’s talking to when he’s talking like this to us brothers. Man, this man, he doesn’t realize that the two boys who he is right now talking to are the two of us brothers. This man thinks that we are just boys who will one of these days, like Man said that we would, grow up to be grown-up men. This man, Man, he doesn’t know the first thing about what it means to be a brother. And so, us brothers, we go ahead and we tell him this. That’s what you think is what we go ahead and we tell this to this here man. You don’t know who you are right now talking to, we say. Us brothers, we give each other this look. There is this look that us brothers, we like to look at each other with this look. It is the kind of a look that actually hurts the eyes of the brother who is doing the looking. Imagine that look. Brother looks this look away from us looking this look and then he says, to the river, to the fish, to the mud that holds this dirty river in its dirty river place: Brother says, to all of this: This man here, Brother says. He’s a keeper, Brother says. If you say so, I say to this. And then just like this, us brothers, we fish with our boy hands down into our front trouser pockets, we fish out from deep inside of this place the knives that we know are down there waiting. And then, together like this, us brothers, we raise our boy hands up to be closer to sky, we cut the moon that is always so full into two half-moon pieces, we look this man Man right in his man’s eye, and then we chop off his man head.
Peter Markus is the author of two books of stories, Good, Brother and The Singing Fish, both from Calamari Press. He is also the author of the novel Bob, or Man on Boat from Dzanc Books. A new book of stories, We Make Mud, will be out in July from Dzanc. Recent stories have appeared in Unsaid, Denver Quarterly, New York Tyrant, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere.
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