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Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportionsby Daniel Wallace
One of our last car trips, near the end of my father's life as a man, we stopped by a river, and we took a walk to its banks, where we sat in the shade of an old oak tree.
After a couple of minutes my father took off his shoes and his socks and placed his feet in the clear-running water, and he looked at them there. Then he closed his eyes and smiled. I hadn't seen him smile like that in a while.
Suddenly he took a deep breath and said, "This reminds me."
And then he stopped, and thought some more. Things came slow for him then if they ever came at all, and I guessed he was thinking of some joke to tell, because he always had some joke to tell. Or he might tell me a story that would celebrate his adventurous and heroic life. And I wondered, What does this remind him of? Does it remind him of the duck in the hardware store? The horse in the bar? The boy who was knee-high to a grasshopper? Did it remind him of the dinosaur egg he found one day, then lost, or the country he once ruled for the better part of a week?
"This reminds me," he said, "of when I was a boy."
I looked at this old man, my old man with his old white feet in this clear-running stream, these moments among the very last in his life, and I thought of him suddenly, and simply, as a boy, a child, a youth, with his whole life ahead of him, much as mine was ahead of me. I'd never done that before. And these images--the now and then of my father--converged, and at that moment he turned into a weird creature, wild, concurrently young and old, dying and newborn.
My father became a myth.
He was born during the driest summer in forty years. The sun baked the fine red Alabama clay to a grainy dust, and there was no water for miles. Food was scarce, too. No corn or tomatoes or even squash that summer, all of it withered beneath the hazy white sky. Everything died, seemed like: chickens first, then cats, then pigs, and then dogs. Went into the stew, though, the lot, bones and all.
One man went crazy, ate rocks, and died. It took ten men to carry him to his grave he was so heavy, ten more to dig it, it was so dry.
Looking east people said, Remember that rolling river?
Looking west, Remember Talbert's Pond?
The day he was born began as just another day. The sun rose, peered down on the little wooden house where a wife, her belly as big as the country, scrambled up the last egg they had for her husband's breakfast. The husband was already out in the field, turning the dust with his plow round the black and twisted roots of some mysterious vegetable. The sun shone hard and bright. When he came in for his egg he wiped the sweat from his brow with a ragged blue bandanna. Then he wrung the sweat from it and let it drip into an old tin cup. For something to drink, later on.
The day he was born the wife's heart stopped, briefly, and she died. Then she came back to life. She'd seen her self suspended above herself. She saw her son, too--said he glowed. When her self rejoined with herself she said she felt a warmth there.
Said, "Soon. He'll be here soon."
She was right.
The day he was born someone spotted a cloud over thataway, with something of a darkness to it. People gathered to watch. One, two, two times two, suddenly fifty people and more, all looking skyward, at this rather small cloud moving close to their parched and frazzled home place. The husband came out to look, too. And there it was: a cloud. First real cloud in weeks.
The only person in that whole town not cloud-watching was the wife. She had fallen to the floor, breathless with pain. So breathless she couldn't scream. She thought she was screaming--she had her mouth open that way--but nothing was coming out. Of her mouth. Elsewhere, though, she was busy. With him. He was coming. And where was her husband?
Out looking at a cloud.
That was some cloud, too. Not small at all, really, a respectable cloud, looming large and gray over all the dried-up acres. The husband took off his hat and squinted, taking a step down off the porch for a better look.
The cloud brought a little wind with it, too. It felt good. A little wind brushing gently across their faces felt good. And then the husband heard thunder--boom!--or so he thought. But what he heard was his wife kicking over a table with her legs. Sure sounded like thunder, though. That's what it sounded like.
He took a step farther out into the field.
"Husband!" his wife screamed then at the top of her lungs. But it was too late. Husband was too far gone and couldn't hear. He couldn't hear a thing.
The day he was born all the people of the town gathered in the field outside his house, watching the cloud. Small at first, then merely respectable, the cloud soon turned huge, whale-size at least, churning strikes of white light within it and suddenly breaking and burning the tops of pine trees and worrying some of the taller men out there; watching, they slouched, and waited.
The day he was born things changed.
Husband became Father, Wife became Mom.
The day Edward Bloom was born, it rained.
In Which He Speaks to Animals
My father had a way with animals, everybody said so. When he was a boy, raccoons ate out of his hand. Birds perched on his shoulder as he helped his own father in the field. One night, a bear slept on the ground outside his window, and why? He knew the animals' special language. He had that quality.
Cows and horses took a peculiar liking to him as well. Followed him around et cetera. Rubbed their big brown noses against his shoulder and snorted, as if to say something specially to him.
A chicken once sat in my father's lap and laid an egg there--a little brown one. Never seen anything like it, nobody had.
The Year It Snowed in Alabama
It never snowed in Alabama and yet it snowed the winter my father was nine. It came down in successive white sheets, hardening as it fell, eventually covering the landscape in pure ice, impossible to dig out of. Caught below the snowy tempest you were doomed; above it, you merely had time to consider your doom.
Edward was a strong, quiet boy with a mind of his own, but not one to talk back to his father when a chore needed doing, a fence mended, a stray heifer lured back home. As the snow started falling that Saturday evening and on into the next morning, Edward and his father first built snowmen and snow towns and various other constructions, realizing only later that day the immensity and danger of the unabating snowfall. But it's said that my father's snowman was a full sixteen feet tall. In order to reach that height, he had engineered a device made out of pine branches and pulleys, with which he was able to move up and down at will. The snowman's eyes were made out of old wagon wheels, abandoned for years; its nose was the top of a grain silo; and its mouth--in a half-smile, as if the snowman were thinking of something warm and humorous--was the bark cut from the side of an oak tree.
His mother was inside cooking. Smoke rose from the chimney in streams of gray and white, curling into the sky. She heard a distant picking and scraping outside the door, but was too busy to pay it much mind. Didn't even look up when her husband and son came in, a half hour later, sweating in the cold.
"We've got ourselves a situation," her husband said.
"Well," she said, "tell me about it."
Meanwhile, the Snow continued to fall and the door they'd just dug through to was nearly blocked again. His father took the shovel and cleared a passage again.
Edward watched--Father shovel, snow fall, Father shovel, snow fall--until the roof of the cabin itself started creaking. His mother found that a snowdrift had formed in their bedroom. They reckoned it was time they got out.
But where to? All the living world was ice now, pure white and frozen. His mother packed up the food she'd been cooking and gathered together some blankets.
They spent that night in the trees.
The next morning was a Monday. The snow stopped, the sun rose. The temperature hovered below zero.
Mother said, "About time you got off to school, isn't it Edward?"
"I guess it is," he said, no questions asked. Which is just the kind of boy he was.
After breakfast he climbed down from the tree and walked the six miles to the little schoolhouse. Saw a man frozen in a block of ice on the way there. About froze himself, too--didn't, though. He made it. He was a couple of minutes early, in fact.
And there was his schoolmaster, sitting on a wood pile, reading. All he could see of the schoolhouse was the weather vane, the rest of it buried beneath the weekend's snowfall.
"Morning, Edward," he said.
"Morning," Edward said.
And then he remembered: he'd forgotten his homework.
Went back home to get it.
His Great Promise
They say he never forgot a name or a face or your favorite color, and that by his twelfth year he knew everybody in his home town by the sound their shoes made when they walked.
They say he grew so tall so quickly that for a time--months? the better part of a year?--he was confined to his bed because the calcification of his bones could not keep up with his height's ambition, so that when he tried to stand he was like a dangling vine and would fall to the floor in a heap.
Edward Bloom used his time wisely, reading. He read almost every book there was in Ashland. A thousand books--some say ten thousand. History, Art, Philosophy. Horatio Alger. It didn't matter. He read them all. Even the telephone book.
They say that eventually he knew more than anybody, even Mr. Pinkwater, the librarian.
He was a big fish, even then.
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