Final hangover

I woke when the sun poked between the two cars, mocking my hangover.  I sat up and the motion triggered a spell of intense nausea—I couldn’t even keep my eyes open.   I managed to gain my feet using small movements.  I considered the gloating sun and saw it had passed well beyond its apex.  Our night of drinking had obliterated the morning and a good portion of the afternoon.  With unsteady steps I worked my way up to the front of the Cougar and saw the Wilsons, still asleep and oblivious to the sun.  They used their jean jackets for pillows.  Paul Wilson lay flat on his back with his belly rising and falling.  Craig Wilson lay on his side, curled tightly in a spider ball.  My late night suspicion festered in my belly.

I tried to get my bearings.  With the benefit of daylight I saw that the unpaved road we’d been traveling didn’t go much further.  Twenty yards up from where we’d camped it ended and the gulf took over.  The strip of land was only as wide as the road.  My swimming pool from the night before was the first of many in a country of endless bogs and swamped-out hollows.

I looked down at the water in the pool.  There was no sign of current, no sign that I was standing in the middle of a giant river.  I wondered how far I would have to go to get myself a greasy breakfast—anything to help treat this hangover.  I was close to retching and knew that I would be better off if I just did it now rather than spending the day fighting the inevitable.  On unsteady feet I returned to the LeBaron.  I noted my filthy attire—compliments of the mud bath the night before.  I changed into a fresh set of clothes, standing buck naked for a moment beside the LeBaron.  This deep in the boondocks there was no use worrying about common modesty.  I felt the nausea rise again as soon as I pulled on a fresh pair of jeans.  I fought off the need to vomit and climbed into the car.  The key was still in the ignition.  I started the car, prepared to turn the LeBaron around, and realized that the Wilsons had boxed me in with the Cougar.

They must have heard the car starting.  Both disheveled brother’s materialized before me.

‘You as hungover as me?’ said Craig Wilson, squinting at the sun.

‘Probably worse,’ I said, and quit the engine.

‘Let’s go get some breakfast,’ barked Paul Wilson, reading my mind.  The two brothers took up the same seats as they had the night before, with Paul driving the Cougar and Craig riding next to me in the LeBaron.  I started up the battered road, once again following Paul Wilson’s lead.

By daylight the deep delta was a montage of greens and blues.  I still had the impression of everything sinking.  The willows sagged: their roots couldn’t find enough purchase to keep them vertical.   Banana plants with heavy emerald leaves graced the roadside.   Everything bloomed with prehistoric fecundity, ripe to the point of obscenity.  Nothing lived for long at the end of the river.  The rich soil overfed the world so that it grew quick and robust and mammoth and became overripe and died before its time.

Craig Wilson said little, and I was glad of it.  The road encouraged nausea with every twist.  It was all I could do to keep between the lines.  We wove our way back into Venice and found a greasy spoon where we could get some cheesy eggs.  Again silence permeated.  We devoured the slop, putting faith in grease to ease the hangover.  The Wilsons, so jovial the night before, were relegated to grunting.  I realized I liked them, liked that they knew when to party and when to shut up and eat.  My suspicion melted under the brotherhood of a shared hangover.

‘How ‘bout a walk?’ I suggested as we exited breakfast.

‘If we go south,’ said Paul Wilson.  So we went south.  I’d assumed Venice was a one-road town but now I saw several two-lane roads intersecting a sparse mile.  Stilted houses fronted the main drag.  There were fire hydrants every fifty yards, although I figured out they must have been more like wells than fire hydrants.  Nothing down here would burn.  The road was strewn with litter and ahead of me I saw a sign for Shell Offshore Inc.  Venice featured the bare essentials: a market with long, wide windows displaying three aisles and one register; a hardware store; and a barbershop.  I saw a balding barber with a blue smock dusting off a maroon chair.  Through the window I could see my stable-boy locks had cowlicked.  Hair dipped to my shoulders in back.  I hadn’t been groomed since leaving the Bay.

A final quarter-mile of road took us beyond the Royal Flush and narrowed down to a terminal strip of pavement that dead-ended in the back of a barn.  To our right stood a sign: ‘You have reached the Southernmost point in Louisiana.’

‘So this is it,’ I said.  Paul Wilson grunted.

A series of islands dotted the horizon.  Most of them sprouted out of the gulf, crumbling mud mounds held together by tree roots.  There were a few larger islands, though, and on some of these I could see some sign of habitation.  A boat was the best way to get around this part of Louisiana.

‘Didn’t you say you were looking for somebody?’ asked Craig Wilson, emerging from his hangover.  I thought back to the night before and supposed that I might have revealed this detail.

‘You could say that.’

‘Why don’t we introduce you to somebody—he may be able to help you out.’

‘Sure why not.’  I had no reason to trust them.  I also had no leads.  I followed the  Wilsons north a ways and then veered right down a spur of pavement that lead up onto a dock lined with fishing vessels.

‘Your friend lives on a boat?’ I said.

‘Just right down here,’ Craig said, turning onto a narrow walkway that ran alongside a forty-foot wooden boat with a deep keel painted blue.  Craig stepped off the walkway onto a ladder that climbed up to a hardwood deck.  I mounted the ladder and climbed four wrungs up onto the deck.  Paul came up behind me so that the two Wilsons stood on either side of me on the deck.  I heard a noise from down below, of someone on the stairs.

‘So who is this friend?’  The Wilsons stood close to me and I wondered why.  I could sense tension in their arms and legs.

‘Actually,’ Paul Wilson said, looking down on me in apology.  ‘He’s more your friend than ours.’  I looked at his chubby face and saw his guilty eyes shift toward the bow.  I followed his eyes and saw the man standing on deck, leaning idly on the captain’s wheel with praying mantis arms.   A wind off the gulf disturbed his faint red har.  Peter Bingham’s mouth curled into a smile.

‘Heard you were in town.’  I looked from Paul to Craig.

‘So who the hell are you guys then?’

Peter answered.  ‘Associates.  My crew.’

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