Image: courtesy of Carol Schaye

Her legs were scarred with mosquito bites, which she could not help but scratch. There were bites from the hummingbird-sized mosquitos of Louisiana from her ankles to her knees. No spray or cream could stop the relentless insects. She stayed inside with the screen doors and window screens closed all day, waiting for the summer sun to retreat so she could sit on the wooden porch that her mother and grandmother had sat on before her. ‘How did they do this?’ She had inherited the house after her mother died, and she had only intended to return to Louisiana to sell the house and return to her life in New York City, where the mosquitos were smaller. 

When the sun went down, Dani was sitting on the creaky porch, drinking vodka and orange juice from a Styrofoam cup, smelling the aroma of wisteria plants that had gone wild since the house had been empty these past few years. She wondered what her mother’s life had been like growing up on these five hundred acres of worthless bayou swampland.  Mom had never given much detail, just working as a nurse’s aide caring for “rich folk,” sending Dani to a private boarding school in Baton Rouge at age eleven and then to a college in New York City. Mom paid for all this while living in the small homestead with her mother and brother Mitch. Now rocking in the same chair she knew as a kid, drinking, having all her senses enhanced by the things she ignored, she felt some remorse. She avoided discussing her family or past at a party or functions in New York. She had come to feel embarrassed about the poverty, accents, and local customs she grew up around for reasons she didn’t understand.

The house had some charm if you were looking to escape a big city and could tolerate the local’s blatant anti-big city bias. The broad pine floors were perfectly shaped with hand-cut beams supporting the roof. Some neighbors had placed tires on their roofs to prevent a blow away when a storm came, but Dani’s family had built the structure to survive without reinforcement.  The back of the house sat right on the water’s edge, which was enticing for sales. A creek way away from Bayou De Cannes, an up-and-coming tourist spot. Homes on the Bayou had become the new places. Desperate for some identification with culture besides Walmart, uniformity, and correctness, being southern was becoming in. Not Florida or Georgia southern, but Louisiana southern, the real south, the biased, racist, ignorant south. People were paying 700,000 dollars to own camps on the Bayou. The locals found it odd, but the money was too much to resist. After generations of poverty, people paid high prices to hunt and fish in the swamp the residents wished they could escape. Voodoo dolls, voodoo spells, and pretend voodoo preachers were selling dolls at roadside stands. The dolls had been purchased at local dollar stores, painted black, wrapped with cotton balls, then dressed with skull-printed tape. Their hands had been created from the claws of crabs. The dolls had been decorated with boiled chicken bones, purchased at a Wal-Mart in Lafayette, Louisiana, a nearby town.

 One resident said he had made 400 dollars on a 20-dollar investment by displaying very little while standing at his voodoo doll stand on the side of the road, just saying enough to excite buyers who wanted in on the mystique of the voodoo culture. The things Dani’s mom wanted her to get away from were in style. Life is funny that way. If her mother could have seen this, she would have laughed her hearty, mucus, cigarette laugh, which eventually killed her. “Isn’t that something “her mom would have said.

 Driving from New York City on her way to Evangeline, thinking ahead, Dani had purchased two large rotating fans at a Walmart in Jennings. When her great-grandparents built the place, they hadn’t wired it well enough to support air conditioning and lights. Anyway, the air condition was too expensive for them. Louisiana southern pride contributed to the bragging rights that folks didn’t need air conditioning; that was for outsiders.

Her great-grandfather bought the 500 acres for 5 dollars an acre to be paid off monthly. Her great-grandmother had enough of her husband’s drinking and beatings and moved into a camp in the bayou nearby, leaving three small children to be raised by her husband.  It was rumored she had murdered someone who tried to rob her camp. Great-Grandfather continued to beat, drink and blame his kids for his self-driven misery until he died of a stroke. Her Grandparents, who weren’t legally married, stayed together long enough to birth her Mom, Uncle Jake, and Uncle Mitch. Uncle Jake had long since died from liver cancer. Her grandfather and her father were somewhere unknown for years, which did not disrupt the daily life or routine of the family. Dani, her Mom, Grandma, and Uncle Mitch were in the two-bedroom house for some years. Grandmom and Mom both succumbed to the family disease of lung cancer at a young age. 

Dani had long since been living in New York City in a dormitory while attending college. Her mom never came to visit her in New York.  Dani returned for her mother’s cremation, and that was that. She did not feel like an orphan since Uncle Mitch was still around. She did have an awakening of sorts when Mom died. She had been a lone traveler most of her young life. Her family of origin seemed like strangers, their culture and ways odd. Her mom had seen to that, had worked for and dreamed of that for her. She had begun to be ashamed of her Mom in her teenage years. Her mother’s shocking pink eyeglasses matched her stunning pink moo moo dresses and shoes. The few times she visited Evangeline while in boarding school in Baton Rouge, she would walk a few steps behind her Mom if they went shopping in Lafayette, so it didn’t appear she was with her. Now she regretted all the things she had done to hide her heritage. Someone had suggested she write a letter apologizing to her Mom and read it in church. She obliged, but it did no good. It was a burden she buried but reared its ugly head occasionally. Being here now with Uncle Mitch seemed the best amends to cure her lingering pain. The amends was fraud because she had always identified with and adored Uncle Mitch. It was easy to be proud of him. 

When Dani Mac got the letter informing her she had inherited 500 acres and a house in Evangeline, Louisiana, she had initially laughed out loud. The only relative she still had contact with was her uncle Mitch, who not only was gay in a time when Gay men were arrested in Evangeline but he was addicted to any substance he could find. He had been arrested twice for prostitution, and his reputation was less stellar. Dani loved him madly. He was funny and irreverent, and most of all, he did exactly as he pleased despite the consequences. He was known for dressing up in women’s evening gowns, then going to local bars embarrassing everyone except Dani, who found him authentic and innovative.

Dani had stayed in contact with Uncle Mitch primarily by mail through a mutual friend who delivered her letters to the creek every once in a while, but the two never lost track of each other; Dani bailed Uncle Mitch out of jail once when he was arrested for drunken driving. That is when he decided to live by the creek because it was his fourth DUI conviction guaranteeing prison time if he was found living in the house. The deputy that came looking for Mitch had left a calling card that was warning enough for Mitch that the place was not safe anymore.

Uncle Mitch had responded to Dani’s letter to join her in Evangeline to assist in selling the two-bedroom wood framed house, sitting on the 500 hundred acres of worthless swampland. He said he didn’t have much else to do. 

Uncle Mitch took the smaller back bedroom, which was better than the tent he had been sleeping in for several months; he had been living along a creek on the property with catfish and crawfish enough for him. 

He had reluctantly returned to Evangeline after his discharge from the US Army for punching a commander officer in the face. The officer had called him a “fucking faggot,” but since he had a purple heart from Viet Nam, it was settled amicably. Uncle Mitch had seen the outside world, he knew there was more to life than a honky tonk in Evangeline, but a shortage of funds had kept him from moving on.  Where to go, with what funds to live on and still maintain his lifestyle of one quart of southern comfort, a poke of methamphetamine, and two packs of Marlboros a day?

When Dani called to offer him a percentage of the house’s sale price, he knew she was his ticket out. After all, she was his favorite (although only niece) because he thought she had escaped the humid mosquito-infested hell of Louisiana, and he wanted out as well. Mitch had grown up in that house on the bayou. The family ate anything available, and Mitch used to say, “Roadkill made a great gumbo dinner.”

Mitch stood by the screen door, fidgeting with the top section that was kept together with bandage tape. He was wearing short pink shorts, and his bare chest exposed a tattoo of a penis with wings pointing straight to his heart.  When Mitch smiled, he revealed upper gums with no teeth, “Those military teeth hurt my mouth; they never did fit right.” As he reached up to adjust the tape on the screen, Dani thought he looked thinner than she recalled.

“We need to put some meat on those skinny bones.”

“No, I need to keep my boyish figure.” As he looked away from her eyes for a moment. He wasn’t smiling when he said it.

“Heh, Shug,” he said, “That little metal boat is still sitting behind the house. Want to stock up on foodstuff, go to Grandmas’ campsite to check things out, maybe take a cage, catch some crawfish, or stay overnight?” 

“If we have mosquito repellent and a shotgun, I’m good to go.” Recalling more than one close encounter with alligators from her childhood.

The bayou where her great grandmother’s campground was nestled held more than a threat from alligators or mosquitos. In recent years when times were hard, more than one camp had been ransacked.  If the owner happened during the robbery, there weren’t many ways leading out; the only route was through the swamp, which meant getting back to your boat.

Dani had almost gotten rid of her Louisiana accent after years of college up north, but Uncle Mitch’s twang was somehow infectious. She realized her speech had begun to regress to a time before speech lessons at Barnard College had almost stripped her of anything unique. Like it or not, this was where she came from. 

Her great-grandmother had been suspected of murdering people near her camp in the bayou. Her uncle Mitch had been a crossdresser and a male prostitute. No amount of east coast schooling could wipe that away, and as Dani sat on the porch drinking her vodka, sitting close to Uncle Mitch, with his pink shorts and Louisiana twang, she found a warm sensation of belonging. 

Uncle Mitch had been beautifully handsome when young, but years of methamphetamine had whittled away at his good looks, leaving him to try to survive by bathroom blowjobs and drunken encounters in bars.

Dani knew better than to try to fix Uncle Mitch; she wanted his humor and joy while selling the family homestead. She knew his share from the house sale would be quickly pissed away. That was his choice and his life, and all Dani wanted was to sit on that old wood porch, listening to tree frogs and crickets, watching lightning bugs, and telling old stories with her Uncle Mitch. Although their paths in life could not have been more different, their souls were united in an odd rebellious style that neither of them bothered to discuss or explore. Uncle Mitch knew she loved him best of all, and she knew he loved her back.

“How bout if we take a ride into the bayou and look at Grandma’s camp tomorrow?” she asked.

“Sounds ok to me; we don’t know what we might find in that old camp, maybe hidden treasure or skeletons,” he replied with a snicker, which led to a coughing jag. 

“Keep smoking,” she said.

 He reached over to his pack of Marlboros, lit one, puffed heavily, and blew smoke at her.

“Fuck you,” she said. He laughed and coughed again.

The camp was settled deep in the swamp, but it was part of the property they wanted to sell. It might even be a big selling point for some folks. Camps were a regular getaway from home, vacation spots on the bayou, usually only accessible by boat. Bayou camps, which had once been a refuge for Louisiana locals, had become a trendy vacation spot for folks who wanted to buy voodoo dolls and eat alligators to show their friends back home. Local folks were glad to oblige the newcomers with tales real and imagined, emphasizing words like ain’t in their stories to add flavor for the vacationers.

Some camps had electrical power, but many did not. Grandma didn’t need power; she had a wood-burning stove and a shotgun. If there were anything there to salvage, Dani and Mitch would probably have to do some fixing up.

“How do you stand these mosquitos?” she asked. 

“The mosquitos ain’t so bad; it’s those alligators that keep eating my dogs; I’d like to get rid of them dinosaurs” If anyone’s going to eat my dogs, it will be me.”

Dani shook her head with a slight grin. Mitch loved to tease her about how he had eaten dogs in Viet Nam. “Tasted like chicken,” he would say. “Heh, we eat anything that doesn’t eat us first.”

Dani chuckled but not a hearty laugh because she knew that statement wasn’t all a joke. Their moods lightened while they reignited their bond, Dani rocking in an old wood handmade chair and Uncle Mitch sitting on the steps to the porch, sipping beer.

There was no one to see or hear for three miles; the old wood house was hidden behind old willows, cypress, and overgrown wisteria vines. Summer humidity enhanced the smells from the wildflowers, moths gathered around the one light on the porch doing a death dance while lightning bugs fluttered, turning the porch into a mad show of smells and dances.

“Ah,” she said,” “I didn’t realize how much I missed this crazy place. I haven’t been back since mom died; I was afraid of the memories.”

“I’m gonna make you a doll tomorrow. No bad will come to you here; the worse thing might be a ghost or two, but no bad here; I’ve got just the right ritual and prayer for you; I’ll pull my book out from under the house and show you; it’s to protect you.”

She almost believed he was right. He had been making voodoo dolls since she was a small child. He always made them protect her. No harm came her way in Evangeline; it was just too small, too southern, and something she couldn’t name.

Pausing to smell and listen, they were joined by Manfred, Dani’s black hound dog who had ears that dragged on the porch floor; his short stubby legs were more beagle-like than basset, more like a black beagle. He walked off the porch, went behind a tree, urinated, and defecated.

“He doesn’t like anyone watching him when he toilets,” she said.

“Where did he come from? He is a hound for sure; looks like a great hunting dog, New York?”

“Yep,” she said. “I saw him at the humane society in New York City; he reminded me of your dog Sam, the dog you hunted with when I was a kid.”

“He looks like Sam, but how did he end up in New York City?”

“How did I end up in New York City?” she laughed.

Manfred, the hound, lumbered up the first stair and rubbed his face against Mitch’s legs, then laid down at his feet with a soft hound sigh.

“This dog needs to be hunting, not sniffing perfume in New York City.”

“Ok,” she said. “Let’s run him at the camp. His problem is he follows his nose, making it difficult to get him back.”

“He is a hound,” Mitch said with emphasis. “He shouldn’t be in a city apartment, and neither should you.” 

“Where should I be, Uncle Mitch?” she asked. “In Evangeline?”

“No,” he said. “We will figure it out.” 

“A hound in a city apartment?”

Dani understood that Mitch was speaking about more than Manfred, the hound dog. He was talking about the changing of a culture he didn’t understand.

Manfred jumped to his feet, howling with his head held straight up, baying warning.

Dani looked down the road as a car drove up the long dirt driveway.

Mitch retreated into the house.

The car was a dark black SUV. Dani stayed put on the porch, rocking, and drinking. A slender fellow about thirty years old wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap that read, “ Buy Louisiana” emerged, walking toward her.

Manfred began howling, barking, and protecting.

“OK, buddy,” the man said. ”I’m Jake from Century realtors. Am I guessing you are Dani? I hope to meet with you to discuss how we might show your property to buyers.”

“Of course, Jake, we spoke over the internet; nice to meet you.”

“Join us on the porch. Would you like a drink?”

“No, mam.”  

“Where do you live?” she asked.

“I live in Lafayette now, but I’m from Kansas originally.”

Dani began laughing, bending over her stomach and grabbing her ankles with her hands to control her response, which she was concerned, might offend Jake.

“I know; what am I doing here, alligators, mosquitos’ swamps, and such?” 

“I just got out of the military; I’m attending college in Lafayette, studying nursing, don’t laugh; I’m a guy, so I took this job part-time to subsidize my income and meet people.”

“I’m a nurse,” she said. “We need more male nurses; welcome to the crazy world of nursing; you know nurses eat their young?” 

“I noticed already during clinical; what’s that about?”

“I don’t know. The wrong person to ask.” 

Jake felt comfortable enough to sit on the stairs where Mitch had been just a few minutes before. He patted Manfred on the head, but Manfred was not willing to be bought by a pat. Manfred was big on reserving judgment. Any man Jake’s age sitting close to Dani was a possible threat for space on Manfred’s side of the bed.

Jake removed his baseball cap, freeing a mop of thick straight black hair so startling that Dani felt the urge to touch it. She was glad to see someone her age, good-looking as he was.

‘What I don’t need right now is a gorgeous heartbreaker in my life,’ she thought, as she tried to fluff up her long curly, auburn hair, wishing she had bothered to run a brush through it. 

‘Estrogen is calm; stop tugging at me; I have a business to take care of.’

A challenging relationship breakup had proceeded Dani’s trip to Evangeline. Her boyfriend, an emergency room doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital, where Dani worked as a nurse for the past two years, was taking a new job in California. Dani was invited to join and marry him, but she couldn’t go with him. He was terrific, but she knew she was too different from and passionate to be a doctor’s wife.

 “You might return tomorrow afternoon with your photographer if you want; I’ll be going to my family’s camp in Bayou De Cannes late afternoon; the place is yours.”

“Photographer,” he laughed, holding up his cell phone, “This is my photographer; this is Evangeline, Louisiana girl.”

Getting serious.

“Be careful. Some fellows on the loose stole guns from a car in Jennings. Two suspects were captured on video surveillance entering unlocked vehicles in the East Ardoin and Perchville Road area of Acadia Parish. They stole two firearms, described as a Ruger LCP 380 and Ruger P90.45.

“Thanks for the warning. I won’t be alone.”

“May I ask who will be with you?” looking slightly disappointed, she found sweet. 

“Oh,” she quickly caught herself, not wanting to bring attention to Mitch.” Manfred, me, my 380 semi-automatic  Ruger, and my mouth, which is a lethal weapon since I live in New York.”

“I’m guessing you know this place, off the road with a house, and all the land could be quite valuable. Developers are buying up nearby bayou property, building new expensive houses, and subdividing the land.”

“Is that so?” as she heard her mother being funneled through her. Genuine surprise.

“Well, let’s get to it, Jake, sell this creaky old place.” The enthusiasm she was showing outside was incongruent with her emotions inside as she ran through a film in her mind of the people, events, meals, and times she had spent on this land in this house. A grieving process of sorts had begun.

As Jake drove back down the driveway, Mitch returned to the porch steps. He had changed into a silk Asian patterned, wrap-around knee-length robe with flip-flop sandals to match.  “Don’t let him get away, Shug; time is a wastin.”

She just shook her head. ”We have business to do, a house to sell,” as she snapped her fingers to draw him away from his infatuation with Jake.

“I’ll go to Jennings, and pick up supplies for more than one day, just in case we decide to stay at the camp for a while. Is there anything you want?”

“A carton of Marlboros and some lighters, please.”

Dani shook her head as she headed for her tiny white Honda. “Keep Manfred in the house while I’m gone, OK. I’m concerned he’ll get lost; he follows his nose.”

Mitch snagged Manfred by his harness and retreated into the house.

The following morning, equipped with mosquito repellent, ammunition for their guns, and a propane-driven Coleman stove, the two headed out toward Grandma’s camp. Manfred seemed at ease in the small metal boat. Dani was relaxed in the solitude of the bayou. The heads of alligators rose at times, but the compelling relaxing theme was the sound of cranes, the overhanging willow and cypress, and the isolation from another person. She hadn’t realized how the noise of New York had kept her on edge until she retreated to Evangeline and now the bayou toward the camp. It didn’t take more than ten minutes in the shelter of the swamp with Bald Cyprus trees intertwined with moss and cranes. A temperature of 92 degrees with a humidity of 78 percent made the trip almost physically painful for Dani. She had worn a long sleeve shirt and pants to protect herself from mosquitos. Sweat was dripping down the side of her face. Her entire body was soaked.

“If I drop dead here, just toss me overboard for the gators, OK?”

“Shug, this is nothing. “Summer is barely here. Blame this on the Mississippi.” 

“Don’t forget the Army Corps of Engineers; they helped create the junk floating around.”

Wiping her face with her soaked sleeve, she looked up to see a sign nailed to a beautiful old willow; the sign read, “Bayou tours seven days a week; call Captain Charlie for more information.” 

“What the fuck?” she quizzed Mitch.

“It’s good for our land sale; it’s the new Louisiana, besides Captain Charlie should be paying us a transport fee; good to know about this.”

 “It’s been a while since I have been out on the bayou. I have stayed away, afraid the Sheriff might look for me there. All I want is to go to Reno, Nevada, I have an old military friend there, and he invited me to stay with him until I get on my feet; the lights in Reno are so bright that it looks like a gigantic city to me, I want to start over, away from Louisiana. I saw Reno when I was in boot camp; the lights were amazing, different signs flashing, and people crowded together on what they called “The Strip,” just the name made me happy; imagine a street named The Strip?” He began to pretend to unbutton his shirt while humming.

“Well, I have two months’ leave from work; let’s get the property sold. I’ll drive you to Reno; it might be a fun trip.”

He looked at her with gratitude and surprise. “You would?”

“It might be a great road trip, so let’s sell this swamp.”

“Yes, Mam Shug, I’m with you on that.”

They both felt a connection of love—a connection of mutual ambition.

Manfred- Image: courtesy of Carol Schaye

Manfred lay panting on the bottom of the small metal boat; Dani Mac poured water over him to cool him down. Then, she noticed a tick on his shoulder. “Mosquitos, ticks, alligators, snakes, what’s not to love about this place?” As she pulled the tick off Manfred with her fingers. 

“Don’t worry, Shug, we are heading toward Nevada pretty soon, I know it.”

“Is that so?” She heard her mother say again, only this time it felt like her mother was speaking through her, not just that she sounded like her mother.

“You sound like your mom.”

“Let’s leave Louisiana sooner than later, Uncle Mitch; I think I’m possessed.”

He laughed. “Is that so?” 

They laughed loudly and heartily as they walked toward Grandma’s camp. After fifteen minutes, they could see the blue-painted house standing on stilts that reached into the water. If you wanted to call it land, the two back stilts were on land. Mitch steered the boat close to a ladder from the front of the small blue house. Mitch climbed up. First, Dani handed up the supplies, and a panting Manfred came last. They entered cautiously but were surprised to find the camp house was in good shape. The wood-burning stove was filled with recently burned ashes: no spider webs, no snakes. 

“Someone might be staying here recently, but those days are ending.” 

“Can they do that, Uncle Mitch?” 

“Well, no one from our family has been here for quite some time, so I guess yes.”

Unloading the supplies, collecting wood from nearby trees, laughing while fanning themselves with fans Dani had the foresight to purchase in Jennings, they enjoyed the camp. Sounds were from cranes and other birds. Dani began to breathe deeply and with an understanding of why her great-grandmother had retreated here so many years ago.

This world of the old south of crawfish gumbo meals, solitude, simplicity, and easy living was seductive. It was dying, being bought by people who wanted to be a part of it. They didn’t realize that they were ending that world by purchasing it.

They lit a fire in the wood-burning stove as evening began to fall. Dani hooked up the Coleman propane stove after dipping the crawfish she had purchased in Jennings in egg and crust.

“Girl, I could catch us crawfish in a half hour with the Cage,” Mitch said.

“Good for tomorrow, for tonight, let us relax, enjoy. This might be our last time to visit this camp.”

“Good,” he said, “Can’t be soon enough for me.”

“Uncle Mitch, what was so terrible about Evangeline?”

“Everything.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I love you, do you know that?”

Mitch looked away when he replied. “Thank you for those words; your mom would be proud.”

Dani fell asleep with a stomach filled with crawfish and potatoes.

Mitch stayed awake, finishing off the voodoo doll he had been making to protect his beloved niece. After completing the doll, he reached under his cot and pulled out his book of spells. He repeated a bit over the doll and then placed it under Dani’s cot. “Now you are safe, child,” he whispered under his breath.

She woke up to the smell of percolating coffee; she wasn’t sure what time it was. The coffee pot was percolating on the wood-burning stove. ‘I brought a Coleman’, she thought to herself, knowing it would never have the vibe of the dry oak wood in the furnace.

“Unc,” she called out, “Manfred?” No response. ‘He’s an apartment dog, not a hunting hound,’ she thought but was aware that Mitch was determined to give Manfred a chance to chase some game.

The coffee was terrific, even with powdered milk. As she reached for a mug on the shelf, she realized her fingernails were dirty, but it just added to the freedom she was feeling in the 

Moment. Dani realized she had not looked in a mirror since leaving the main house yesterday. A sigh of relief overcame her.

Having fallen asleep in her sweatpants and shirt from yesterday, she sat on the edge of her cot sipping the best coffee she had ever had in her life, listening to Mourning Doves, whose cries usually annoyed her, waiting for the inevitable humidity, mosquitos, and heat to tear into what was her first genuine tranquil moment in years. Lingering in her mind was a slight concern for Manfred, but Mitch would not let anything happen to him. She sighed, exhaling anxiety, worry, and grief, while she wondered if she might not stay where she was as her great-grandmother had done before her. ‘You are such a romantic.’ She thought to herself.

Footsteps and men’s voices shook her from her daydream as two disheveled men walked into the backdoor of the camp. They were as surprised as Dani.

“Well, hello, good lookin’.” Said one fellow as he waved to Dani with a hand much dirtier than hers.  “Aren’t you a nice surprise?”

Dani recognized the two men from the newspaper she had seen while grocery shopping in Jennings the day before. These men were shown on camera stealing guns from a car, but she knew better than to say anything.

“Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen you,” pretending to know one of the men. “Some coffee?”

“Well, thank you, mam,” the dirtier of the two men said as he took a seat on Uncle Mitch’s cot as though it was his. As he pulled back his shirt, the handle of a gun showed. As much as she had been sweating on the boat trip, it was nothing compared to the waterfall under her clothes. It surprised her that when she reached for two mugs and the coffee pot, her hand didn’t shake. She managed to get her voice out even though her mouth and lips were bone dry.

Dani was as southern and polite as she could muster from her past. She didn’t know she was capable of such good acting, but she thought her life might depend on it.

“I don’t recall knowing you, mam,” one fellow said.

“Dani Dugan? You don’t recall me, well isn’t that somethin’?” she laughed with the broadest Louisiana accent she had heard in a very long time. Dani Mac Dugan?” she asked again.

Both men looked befuddled just as all three heard a shotgun being retracted. The three looked up to see Uncle Mitch standing at the back door, Manfred beside him, with a dead squirrel in his mouth.

“Now, you fellows, lay those guns on the table while Dani ties these ropes to your ankles and wrists. I was hoping to catch some crawfish today with those ropes, but I guess not, huh?” He chuckled.

Both men complied, as there was no time to grab weapons. Besides, they weren’t looking to kill anyone or make a few bucks with the stolen weapons.

After both men were nicely restrained, they heard the sound of a boat’s motor.

“Now what, you folks got company coming?”

“No, sir.” The dirtier fellow said.

Mitch looked out onto the bayou to see Jake, the real estate fellow driving a nice swamp boat up to the camp.

“Dani,” Jake excitedly, yelled her name, “Dani, we have a buyer.” He stood up as he tied the boat to the ladder leading to the front door.

“Wait, what?” he asked as he walked in to find Dani, two men tied up, and the third man with a shotgun on his arm. Manfred still stood proudly, displaying his squirrel.

“It’s kind of complicated,” said Dani. “Meet my Uncle Mitch.” 

“Nice to meet you, sir.” 

“So we have a buyer?” Ignoring the odd arrangement of folks in the cabin. “Yes, mam, we have a cash offer with a bidding war. I couldn’t get you on the phone; no service here.”

The three packed up their belongings, lifted Manfred with his squirrel onto the boat, and began the trip back to the house.

“What about us?”

“We’ll call the Sherriff when we get to a telephone.” Uncle Mitch laughed.

When the house was sold, Dani bought uncle Mitch a class c motorhome with a kitchen, bathroom, and queen-sized bed. When she pulled up in front of the old house in the RV, it had a big blue bow on the windshield. 

She had to drive the thing to Reno, Nevada, with him because he didn’t have a driver’s license. Once in Reno, she found a lovely RV park with a heated pool and a dog park. The RV Park was within walking distance of the Strip and local grocery stores. “This motorhome guarantees you won’t ever have to live by the creek again,” she said.

“What was wrong with the creek?”

“Anyway, I paid the rent two years in advance at the office. Here is your bank book with your share of the house sale. I put some money away where you can’t find it unless you need it. Are you gonna be OK while I’m gone?”

She was aware she was treating him like a child, but she sometimes could not help herself; he was precious to her.

“Girl, I’m gonna be more than OK; let me explain; I’m gonna miss you and all but Manfred and me, we will manage, I suppose. Wowowee,” he yelled, “I hear those slot machines and bright lights calling my name.”

Dani had arranged to leave Manfred with Mitch for a while so she could resign from her job in New York and close out her apartment.  Dani hadn’t meant to change just about everything in her life with one visit to Evangeline, but isn’t that something?’ she thought.

“We’ll be waiting on you, Shug.” 

She handed Mitch his new cell phone with her number taped on the back. She patted Manfred, who was lying at Mitch’s feet, snoring.

“My fellas,” she laughed as she headed toward the taxi for the airport. “I’ll see you in a week or two.”

As the taxi drove away, she looked back to see Uncle Mitch sitting outside his RV in his pink shorts, no shirt, reading the newspaper while Manfred snoozed alongside him. ‘I’m not sweating,” she thought. ‘Aint life grand?’

When Dani settled everything in New York, she booked a flight to Reno to surprise Uncle Mitch. Reno might not be the place for her, but now she was free from her middle-class prison, thanks to her family that lived life their way, didn’t dress fancy, and didn’t need a lot.

When she found the rig in Reno empty, a neighbor told Dani Uncle Mitch had been taken to the hospital by ambulance; “That hound dog went with him . I didn’t know they allowed that,” he said.

The ride to the hospital was short but horrifying. Dani was escorted to the cardiac intensive care unit, where Uncle Mitch struggled to breathe. People in blue scrubs surrounded him while Manfred kept howling for them to leave him alone.

“Shug,” Mitch managed to say, “You gotta let Manfred hunt and run free. Manfred is a hound dog.”

With that, the folks in blue scrubs began CPR pressing on the tattoo on Mitch’s chest.


Carol Schaye, a long-time resident of Reno, Nevada, loves the unique characters and freedom she finds in the West. Carol has had several short stories published by McFadden’s Women’s Group. Carol has written for two west coast newspapers and has worked extensively in television. A fan of Flannery O’Connor, Carol studied acting with Lee Strasberg and Austin Pendleton and writing with Salem Ludwig. She attended Marymount College majoring in theatre.                                                    


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