JAMES TATE is set to release Memoir of the Hawk (Ecco Press) in 2001.
When I met Lester on the street, he was
all excited. He had just bought his first house.
"What's it like?" I asked. "It's got a view of
the river," he said. "You should come and
see it some time." About a week later, I did.
It wasn't much of a house. In fact, it was a
wreck. Wall-to-wall shag rug of no discernible
color, plywood walls. Lester didn't have much
furniture. We pulled two rickety plastic chairs
up to the window and looked out at the river.
That was that river all right, and it was a mighty
one. Lester was smiling. "My God, it's powerful,"
he said. "I wouldn't want to catch myself in it,"
I said. "You'd be a dead man on your way to the
gulf," he said. We sat there talking like that
for a couple of hours. "I think you're high
enough up you won't get flooded," I said. "No,
I'm safe up here," he said. "You're pretty well
set," I said. "Oh, I'm set alright," he said.
"You'll see it all," I said. "Anything that
matters, I'll be right here," he said, smiling
and slapping his hands together. It was hard
to tear myself away. I congratulated Lester
on his great, good purchase and he invited me
to stop by anytime. I had always before thought
of Lester as a lost soul, when all along the
river was patiently waiting for him.
Earle Starkie worked for the town for
sixty years. And then one night he died in
his sleep. I knew Earle, I liked Earle. He
was a good man. A couple of days later I went
to his funeral. The place was almost empty.
His wife was there. She showed no emotion.
I listened to the minister's words carefully,
and it sounded to me like Earle was going to
hell. Afterwards, I went up to Harvey Esman,
who had worked with Earle for many years.
"Where was everybody?" I asked. "People didn't
like Earle," he said. "Earle was a whiner."
"But he worked for the town for sixty years,"
I said. "And he whined about everything the
whole time. He's finally stopped whining,
that's why I came, to thank him for that,"
he said. "He was always real decent to me,"
I said. Harvey looked me up and down as
though I were the most naive person in the
world. "See you next time," I said, and I
gave him my best cold gaze.