Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Story A Week: Peter & Paul

Two little dicky birds sat upon a wall,
One called Peter and one called Paul.
Fly away Peter, fly away Paul;
Come back Peter, Come back Paul.
-Dean’s Mother Goose-

Two men sat in a boat on a wide lake smooth as marble. They wore caps to shade their faces, though the sun barely arced over an eastern mountain ridge, a mosaic of golden light slanting across the water.

The men didn’t speak, as fishermen don’t speak. They stared at the point where their lines disappeared into the water, and watched a single water bug skimming patterns on the surface.

They were brothers, sharing the same angle on their caps, the same rounding of their shoulders, the same plaid shorts typical of old men. When they readjusted their bony rumps on the unforgiving plank seats of the row boat, you could tell they were of the same family because their movements were identical.

Upon closer inspection, they wore matching noses: Roman, like bird-beaks. In their old age, they shared sunken cheeks and colorless eyes, like blue toilet water clouded with bleach.

They waited as the sun drew up over the mountains.

Paul pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the sweat off his forehead. “That’s it then?”

“Giving up already?” Peter snapped, rotating his arm to check the gold wrist watch that weighed down his puny arm. It had been a retirement present from Axley and Wesler Life Insurance, where he’d worked for fifty years. “Not even eight o’clock yet.”

“I’m not getting any younger,” Paul said, folding the handkerchief as best he could with one hand, before slipping it back in his shirt pocket. “That sun’s hot already.”

“You don’t see me complaining and I’m older than you are,” Peter said, looking back at the still water. “Now hush up or the fish won’t bite.”

“We’re in the same row boat,” Paul said. “If I go back, you go back. If you stay, I stay.”

“So, what’ll it be?” Peter asked.

“Comes down to who’s stronger.”

“I’m guessin’ we’re staying then,” Peter said.

“How do you figure that?” Paul asked.

“Because I’ve beat you at everything your whole, entire life.”

“That’s not true.”

“Name one time you ever beat me,” Peter said.

Paul didn’t miss a beat. “Nineteen fifty.”

“What time was that?”

Paul shoved up the bill of his cap and fixed his watery gaze on his brother. “The time I pinned that arm of yours in three seconds flat down at Callahan’s Drive-in.”


“It’s true,” Paul replied. “As God sees and hears, it’s true!”

“Don’t bring God into this, fool!” Peter growled. “This is a man’s argument!” His line shivered, rippling the water. “You can’t foist this on me, fabricating stories. I’m not heading back yet. I’ll fish till ten and that’s final!”

“Nineteen sixty-two,” Paul said.


“I splashed the water highest in that canon ball contest,” Paul said. “All the girls voted. And don’t try to tell me I didn’t.”

“You didn’t,” Peter said flatly.

“You remember your old buddy Tim? Made Marlon Brando look like a weener? Your best man when you married that hussy Delilah?”

“Of course I remember Tim, you blithering lunatic!” Peter cried. “And don’t you go calling Delilah a hussy. She was sweet girl when I knew her … Had the morals of a tree frog, but a sweet girl.”

“It was at Tim’s club. You remember? Swimming in that pool shaped like a kidney bean? We jumped off that diving board – you, me, and Tim. And I won!”

“No memory,” Peter muttered. “You’re making things up again – to make yourself look good, I might add.”

Then his line twitched.

“There you go!” he cried. “I told you so! Just give it time, brother. They can tell which line belongs to the real man.”

“You can net this fish, and then I’m rowing us back to shore.”

“I’m staying till ten,” Peter said.

“Nineteen seventy-eight. Your forty-fifth birthday.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Peter said, clenching his dentures. The line was taught, the fish on the other end struggling under the surface of the water. Paul looked in and saw its expressionless marble eye and thrashing tail.

“You said your wife Miranda could make the best darn cakes in the world. You said you could eat a whole one by yourself.”

“Miranda did make a darn good cake,” Peter said. “That’s about the only thing she did well, though, if I remember right. Now if you want to call someone a hussy, with her and her clandestine goings on—”

“And I said, ‘All right. Let’s see you do it.’”

“Do what?”

“Eat the entire cake.”

“Ancient history,” Peter muttered, wobbling as he extended the net out over the side of the boat.

“And you said, ‘Bet I can eat more than you any day.’”

“I did eat more, too!”

“Oh no, you didn’t!” Paul cried, his voice raspy from so much yelling. He tugged the handkerchief out of his pocket again and mopped his dribbling brow. “I finished off twenty-seven pieces and you couldn’t eat more than twenty-four!”

“Ironic,” Peter said. “Now you can’t even eat a slice of cheesecake without getting the runs.”

“Call Miranda when we get back and you ask her yourself.”

“She won’t remember, you idiot,” Peter said. “Last time I heard she was living senile in Los Vegas. Wandering up and down the strip thinkin’ she was Marilyn Monroe.” He adjusted himself on the bench seat, trying to get to the fish at a better angle.”How you remember all this nonsense is beyond me! Make yourself useful! Hold onto me before I fall head first into this darned lake!”

Paul leaned forward and gripped the back of Peter’s shirt. “I did, though. I beat you.”

“Oh shove it up your old wazoo!” Peter cried. “I’m not heading back till ten, so you might as well get used to the idea. If you’re going to start remembering everything, try remembering the thousands of times I whooped your—!”

The old man’s girlish scream was swallowed up by the water. He went down like a concrete block with hardly a splash. Paul saw the fish glide away, dragging the pole behind it. After a couple minutes, the net bobbed to the surface.

Paul looked down at his hand, the hand covered in skin wrinkled like tanned leather. It wasn’t good at holding much anymore. Even this morning, heading out, he’d lost a coffee mug. It shattered on the kitchen tile at the Blue Orchid Assisted Living Facility where he and Peter lived in adjoining apartments. He pulled the fingers into a fist and let them fall open again.

“Guess you were real determined to stay,” he said to the net on the water. “Guess I’ll row myself back now. Guess after all of that, I win.”

Thank, Tim, for the idea! Tim inspired this story with the words: foist, blithering and clandestine. To find out more about my Story A Week challenge, click here. To give me three words of inspiration for a future story, click here.


  1. I once had two birds named Peter and Paul!!! We incubated two chicks in my second grade class, and I got to take them home afterward. I named them after biblical figures; I didn't even know there was a nursery rhyme!

  2. Esther VanderlaanMay 11, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    Cute ;)

  3. i LOVE the next to last paragraph. well done, well done. way to inspire, tim.