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Catfish Pond Woman

Bianca McCarthy

Chemical Factory Fire Killed the Cat | Cole Pittman | Photography

There are ponds in the Mississippi Delta.

You find yourself there when you’ve wrecked your car again, grumbling that it wasn’t your fault, when of course it was. That deer hadn’t come out of nowhere—you’d gone hunting for that deer in Mamaw’s old Nissan.

These ponds are perfect circles.

Before you unlearned the word “why,” you used to ask just that.

They say there are catfish in there. But they say it in a distinctly uncatfishlike way.

The ways of the catfish are blatant, easy. Those fish know when they’re fixin’ to be fried, but they don’t run (no legs). So, it’s easy for you to know that it’s not catfish in these ponds.

And the sight beneath the muddy depths doesn’t really shock you.

Everybody warns you ‘bout those Mississippi women, and if you are one, they warn you about yourself.

They never did say nothing about catfish pond women.

She crawls out of the pond, heaving and clutching fin-fulls of soft red dirt. Her hair’s a bit tangled, but she’s pretty, aside from the gray of her skin and the whiskers catty-corner to her mouth.

You feel a hint of satisfaction, ‘cause there sure weren’t catfish in there, unless this lady counts.

When she opens her jaws, showing nearly toothless gums, you should be afraid, but you aren’t. And your instincts are right to trust her, ‘cause she seems to be a real straight talking catfish pond woman.

“Got a light?” she rasps.

You say “yeah,” and toss her the red lighter you carry around ‘cause your mama smokes a twelve-pack a day but can’t be assed to carry her own damn light.

“How long you been smoking?” you ask, making gas station bathroom type conversation.

“I don’t,” she says and swallows the lighter whole. “Don’t really care for the nicotine.”

“I don’t either.” You make a mental note to swing by the Dollar General and get a new lighter.

She considers you for a moment.

“Life gets better outside of this shit town,” she says finally.

“Yeah?” you answer, wanting to ask more, but your uncle used to know a guy who got drowned by a catfish.

“Yeah, kid. I got friends in the river, free as birds, except not really, ‘cause they ain’t got wings or legs.”

You both sit in silence for a moment.

You finally speak, “This town ain’t just shit, it’s murderous. I’m dying, ma’am, I’m dying.”

You feel tears pinprick your eyes. You don’t cry much, especially not in front of new folks, but she feels like a safe space.

“You got legs, baby. Just walk on out of this pond.”

And the catfish pond woman slips into the deep.