During the summer of 1941, every weekday morning at the top of the tide, McCall Purnell and I would board my skiff and go progging for crab. Call and I were right smart crabbers, and we couldalways come home with a little money as well as plenty of crab for. supper. Call was a year older than I and would never have gone crabbing with a girl except that his father was dead, so he had no man to take him on board a regular crab boat. He was, as well, a boy who had matured slowly, and being fat and nearsighted, he was dismissed by most of the island boys.
Call and I made quite a pair. At thirteen I was tall and large boned, with delusions of beauty and romance. He, at fourteen,. was pudgy, bespectacled, and totally unsentimental.
"Call, I would say, watching dawn break crimson over the Chesapeake Bay, "I hope I have a sky like this the day I get married."
"Who would marry you?" Call would ask, not meanly, just facing facts.
"Oh," I said one day, "I haven't met him yet."
"Then you ain't likely to. This is a right small island."
"It won't be an islander."
"Mr. Rice has him a girl friend in Baltimore."
I sighed. All the girls on Rass Island were half in love with Mr. Rice, one of our two high school teachers. He was the only relatively unattached man most of us had ever known. But Mr., Rice had let it get around that his heart was given to a lady from Baltimore.
"Do you suppose," I asked, as I poled the skiff, the focus of my romantic musings shifting from my own wedding day to Mr. Rice's, "do you suppose her parents oppose the marriage?"
"Why should they care?" Call, standing on the port washboard, had sighted the head of what seemed to be a large sea terrapin and was fixing on it a fierce concentration.
I shifted the pole to starboard . We could get a pretty little price for a terrapin. of that size. The terrapin sensed the change in our direction and dove straight through the eelgrass into the bottom mud, but: Call "had the net waiting, so that when the old bull hit his hiding place, he was yanked to the surface and deposited into a waiting pail. Call grunted with satisfaction. We might make as much as fifty cents on that one catch, ten times the price of a soft blue crab. got some mysterious illness and doesn't want to be a burden to him."
"Mr. Rice's finance." I had picked up the word, but not the pronunciation from my reading. It was not in the spoken vocabulary of most islanders.
"The woman he's engaged to marry, stupid."
"How come you think she's sick?"
"Something is delaying the consumption of their union."
Jerked his head around to give me one of his looks, but the washboards of a skiff are a precarious perat best, so he didn't stare long enough to waste time or risk a dunking. He left me to what he presumed to be my looniness and gave his attention to the eelgrass. We were a good team on the water. I could pole a skiff quickly and quietly, and nearsighted as he was he could spy a crab by just a tip of the claw through grass and muck. He rarely missed one, and he knew I wouldn't jerk or swerve at the wrong moment. I'm sure that's why he stuck with me. I stuck with him not only because we could work well together, but because our teamwork was so automatic that I was free to indulge my romantic fantasies at the same time. That this part of my nature was wasted on Call didn't matter. He didn'thave any friends but me, so he wasn't likely to repeat what I said to someone who might snicker. Call himself never laughed.
I thought of it as a defect in his character that I must try to correct, so I told him jokes. "Do you know why radio announcers have tiny hands?"
"Wee paws for station identification," I would whoop.
"Don't you get it, Call? Wee paws. Wee Paws." I let go the pole to shake my right hand at him. "You know, little hands-paws."
"You ain't never seen one."
"One radio announcer."
"Then how do you know how big their hands are?"
"I don't. It's a joke, Call."
"I don't see how it can be a joke if you don't even know if they have big hands or little hands. Suppose they really have big hands. Then you ain't even telling the truth. Then what happens to your joke?"
It's just a joke, Call. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not."
"It matters to me. Why should a person think a"
"Never mind, Call. It doesn't matter."
But he went on, mumbling like a little old preacher about the importance of truth and how you couldn't trust radio announcers anymore.
You'd think I'd give up, but I didn't.
"Call, did you hear about the lawyer, the dentist, and the p-sychiatrist who died and went to heaven?"
"Was it a airplane crash."
"No, Call. It's a joke...