Auguste Renoir, “Oarsmen at Chatou” 1879 – Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington
“Don’t go out again!” Sarah called, as she stood on the bank stomping her boot, hiking up her skirt. She looked at her boots and tried to kick the mud off.
“Oh, dear, leave the boy alone,” said Daniel, her husband, waving at the boy to go ahead. He winked at her. “He’ll be back in time for dinner, and the exercise is good for him.” Daniel stuck his hands in his coat pockets, searching for his tobacco pack.
“Don’t fret so, Sarah, the boy is proud of what he’s made. Can’t say I’m not a little bit pleased with it myself. He was fair easy to teach,” her father said, watching the boy paddle further from the shoreline. “I’m sure she’s water tight and he won’t have any problems.”
“Yes, but Dad, he’s too young to be going all over the river on his own. You should have made it a two-seater, then you or Daniel could have gone out with him.” She saw Daniel shake his head and turn back toward the house. She stared after him.
“He’ll be fine. Why, I was what, half his age, when I went down to the river fishing on my own. My mother never fret so.” He patted her shoulder. “Now, now there. It’ll be alright, my girl.” They both turned and started walking toward the house.
“Well, if you think so.” She sighed. “I’d better check on dinner.”
“This ole’ man has built up an appetite!” Sarah laughed as he patted his belly.
Sarah heard shouts. She dropped the hot dish she had just pulled from the oven onto the stove top and ran to look out the window. Several men were gathered at the river bank. Daniel ran down the hill toward the crowd and her father trotted after him. She quickly untied her apron, threw it on the table and followed them, slamming the screen door so hard it opened back up and stood slightly ajar.
Sarah ran. Oh that boy! I knew something would happen to him. I just knew it!
Coming upon the group of men, she pushed her way through, relieved when she saw her son. She clutched him to her chest, squeezing him tightly.
“Ma! Let go!”
Sarah pushed him back and searched his face. She held his face tightly, cheeks squishing through fingers in both hands.
“Sarah, let the boy go,” said Daniel, pulling her hands away from their son’s face. “He’s fine. But look what he found.” He pointed at a huge fish laying on the beach. She looked at it, then around at all the men, confused. She looked back at the fish and noticed it had fins on its top side.
“What is that?” she asked incredulously.
Her father was the first to answer. “Why, I do believe it’s an old bull shark. I seen them down in Louisiana when I was traveling around selling insurance. I don’t know how it got so far north, though.” Her father shook his head, still studying the creature. It’s tail flapped, smacking the sand loudly.
“Can you eat it?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I don’t think you’d want to. How you gonna filet it? It’s too big. Look at its teeth. It could bite ya.”
She laughed nervously. “Well, I’m not going to filet it.” She turned to her son. “How’d you catch that anyway?”
“I didn’t. It followed me in my boat. It made me nervous, so I paddled back to shore. Luckily, I got back first and was able to jump out and pull my boat up; but Ma, the thing threw itself right at me. That’s how come its on the shore!”
“Oh, my…” Sarah threw her hands to her face. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Yes, Ma. What should I do with it?” They both turned toward Daniel. He lifted his pipe and shrugged. All three looked at Sarah’s father.
“Anyone got a hammer? We could try to eat it. I figure if we all hold it down, maybe we can all have a bit.” The few surrounding men started mumbling in agreement.
“Oh my, dinner!” Sarah turned and ran back to the house. When she walked into the kitchen, there stood a sheep. She screamed, “Daniiiiieeeellll!”