It Ain't Right | Rhienna Renèe Guedry
Twenty shrimp boats have come ashore early. Little men stand with hands on their hips, shaking their heads in unison while one of them digs through the daily loot of Louisiana catch, tossing creature after creature over their shoulder like salt before giving up.
The water is usually just brown, but from up here, it’s almost beautiful, iridescent and rich, like what you’d expect the seas of uncharted planets to look like. A closer look and you get the distinct impression things aren’t going well.
“Gotta throw it all back—nothin’ in here we can keep,” a man, toothless, brown, and broken, says. “I ain’t never seen anything like it.”
They lift the nets and let them sink back into the swampy waters right off shore. Boat after boat releases the day’s catch. The men scurry around like crabs. Some men smoke, others don’t. The ones without cigarettes hold their mouths agape. The worry is tangible and contagious: how’s dinner going to get on the table? What if it’s always like this?
Jes levels a spoon against the horizon of the gumbo, letting the roux flood in slowly. It’s been sitting around long enough that the oil is starting to shimmer, separating a little in ribbons. Jes daydreams about the ready-made speech prepared for anyone who might try to talk about the ethics of gumbo—should there be tomatoes, or should there not?—but snaps out of the fantasy when his spoon unearths a shrimp without eyes. Sure, sometimes they get swept out. All those shrimp shoulder to shoulder in metal cages, dipped to boil next to corn on the cob, poured from one container to another. Jes raises the critter closer to his face and notes not just the lack of eyes, but the lack of sockets, entirely: smooth angles like a jawline. Instinctively, Jes spits back the okra and rice in his mouth. He digs out another one and finds it’s eyeless—socketless— too. He looks around like there’s going to be a hidden camera angled at him, laugh track queued up and ready to fill the air with artificial entertainment.
Curious, Jes splits off the tail of the shrimp like the shuffling of a deck of cards. Instead of the mustard-yellow guts he’s seen all his life, this one bleeds a bright bruise-colored purple. The tail meat is the color of brain matter, shrunken half the size of the tail itself. Jes rips the tail off another to find no tail meat at all.
“I’m Sam Spear reporting live just outside of Terrebonne Parish. Today we’re talking to Jim Boudreaux, a fisherman of thirty years, born and raised for five generations in Terrebonne. Jim, can you tell us why you’re leaving this boat you’ve called home for three decades, and your life’s work behind you?”
“Sir, if you seen what I seen out there this morning, you wouldn’t be asking me why. None of us out here have a backup plan. I just all know it’s time, me. God ain’t happy with something we done, or something ya’ll done, and I don’t want to be on the water when the devil fights back.”
Jim bends down to cuff one pant leg and unstick it from his rain boots. He squints at the television crew and their suits and shiny shoes.
“Jim, would you mind telling us...”
“I ain’t speaking for shit. You know what you need to know. These fish don’t have gills, the crabs have lesions like we burned ‘em with cigarettes. I’ve been doing this my whole life and the whole thing’s done, it’s over. Now let me be.” Jim takes off in a quick, asymmetrical limp away from the crew. Both the reporter and the cameraman look at one another, puzzled, but he continues moving, faster than they can follow, cords still connected to the news van.
Sam Spear closes the newscast spontaneously, “Reporting from Terrebonne Parish, we’ll have more information on this breaking story soon. Back to you, Marla.” The camera’s red light goes off, and Sam takes off towards Jim for another quote. But Jim has his truck in reverse already, and with a screech, he pulls away.
Just like that, newscaster Sam Spear goes down, like a cartoon slipping on a banana peel. His loafers submerged, he is now covered in the slick, wet fish parts under foot. Jim Boudreaux woulda loved to see it, if he’d just been looking in the rear-view mirror at the right time.
“Goddamnit!” He is covered in inky black and maroon guts, the same shocking color that is oozing out of the fish beneath him, their mouths open wide. Sam sits up like a kid from a nightmare and looks at his hands. Grape jelly.
Rhienna Renèe Guedry is a Louisiana-born writer and artist who found her way to the Pacific Northwest, perhaps solely to get use of her vintage outerwear collection. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Empty Mirror, Bitch Magazine, Scalawag Magazine, Taking the Lane, and elsewhere on the internet. Rhienna holds a MS in Writing/Publishing from Portland State University and is currently working on her first novel. Find more about her projects at rhienna.com.