Cabin Fever

Nisan 27, 2024 Yazar admin 0

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1975, Southeastern United States

Travis lived in an old log cabin a few hundred yards from the point where the creek flowed into the big river. His father had bought two acres for next to nothing and built the place one log at a time in the late nineteen-fifties and they had used it as a hunting and fishing getaway. When he was young Travis had always looked forward to coming there with his Dad and older brother Eddie to fish out in the river and in-season would hunt for deer and rabbits.

The cabin was pretty crude from the get-go. His father installed a septic tank and drilled a well, but the water was full of sulphur and other minerals and it smelled and tasted bad. The cabin was a few miles from the small town up the creek, so there was no electricity either until the mid-sixties. As the town slowly expanded in the direction of the big river his father, who happened to be a supervisor at the electric company, managed to get a power line run out to the point. Stay ahead of the growth, he’d said, and one of the bigwigs had agreed and approved it. The cabin still had no heat or air conditioning, but at least it had power for lights, fans, a fridge and a stove.

Eddie was drafted in ’67 and was soon sent off to Vietnam and Travis followed him fifteen months later. Eddie was killed in combat when Travis was in Boot Camp. Travis went to war too and nine months later was sent home with his left leg full of shrapnel and three of his toes blown off. He would walk with a wobbly limp for the rest of his life. When he got home he found out his girlfriend had moved in with another guy. Then he got sick as a dog and became delirious with high fever. He went to the doctor. The doctor put him in the hospital immediately; he had malaria. Over the following half-year his father died of a heart attack, and then his mother passed away shortly thereafter. She hadn’t been sick; Travis assumed she’d died of a broken heart.

Travis was their sole heir. He hired a lawyer to sort everything out, get rid of all the personal property and sell the house. Then he packed all his stuff into his pickup and hitched the boat and trailer to the rear and drove to the cabin. That was all he wanted. He’d been there ever since.

After the estate sale, selling the house and receiving the life insurance Travis netted a little over $31,000. He insisted on cash; he no longer trusted his government and he wasn’t trusting any banks. The lawyer thought it was a peculiar request but he didn’t pry and had the cash waiting for him when he came to pick it up. Then Travis drove to the small town up the creek where he had a post office box and picked up his monthly disability check. He cashed it at the bank and drove to his cabin. He opened a floor board under the rug in the bedroom and stashed the money in the steel box hidden there.

For many months, all Travis did was go fishing in the mornings and work around the cabin the rest of the day, fixing it up. He and his pickup became a familiar sight in town, the ‘loner from the point’ they called him, coming and going, buying tools and materials, ordering supplies, always paying cash. He painted. He built a front porch the length of the cabin. He rebuilt the bulkhead and dock. He replaced the old shingled roof with metal and installed gutters all around, which flowed into two huge cisterns he installed at the back of the cabin, one for the kitchen and one for the bathroom and indoor and outdoor showers. In a southern, subtropical climate that received fifty-some inches of rainfall per year the tanks stayed well-filled most of the time. The well water was just used for the commode, cleaning fish and washing down the truck and boat.

He built himself a desk. Because at night Travis tried to write. He’d always been a writer, and had sent many short stories out to magazines, and had had two published, earning twenty-five dollars for each. But now he was trying to write something big, something special. About the war and the shit he’d seen and the pain he’d endured and the brother he’d lost and his anger and the hatred he felt for the assholes who had sent him there and how everybody now looked at him like he was some kind of freak ever since he’d come home. But the writing wasn’t happening. He ripped sheet after sheet of paper out of his typewriter and threw them in the trash.

Travis fished nearly everyday and found that he was not only good at it, but that it could be profitable. He’d stock his fridge and freezer and then sell the rest to the market in town or to a market in the town across the river. Mostly trout and cat. With his monthly check and the money he had coming in from fishing he made more than enough to live on and each month he would stash more cash into his steel box.

One afternoon after a very prodigious day out on the river, Travis was cleaning fish on his dock when he noticed a skiff full of black kids coming his way from town heading toward the river. There was an older, good-looking girl sitting back with her hand on the tiller of an old, edirne escort small outboard motor that sounded like it was about to kick the bucket at any moment. In front of her were three young children, two boys and a girl.

“Hi, Mister!” one of the little boys called, as the boat neared his dock. It slowed and eased closer.

“Hi. How’re y’all doing today?” Travis asked.

“Good! Going for a boat ride,” the boy said.

“Where are you all going? This here’s the end of the creek. You better turn around. You don’t want to get out in the river!”

“Why not?”

“Number one that little motor isn’t going to help you much, it’s pretty rough out there, the current’s too strong. Plus, where are your life jackets?”

“We’re not going in the river,” the older girl said. “Just to the mouth, then we was gonna turn back.”

“Good,” Travis said. “Why don’t you tie up, take a break?”

They secured the skiff and climbed up on the dock.

The young girl looked to be about ten, the boys a little older. Travis could see that the older girl was actually a young lady, and an attractive one at that. She looked to be about nineteen or twenty, was thin and barefoot and wore blue jean cutoffs and a white t-shirt. Her breasts were small and bra-less, her nipples slightly aroused inside her damp shirt. Her hair was a wind-blown, kinky black mop but her toned arms and legs were smooth as chocolate milk.

“What ya doin’ Mister?” the boy said.

“Cleaning fish. Catfish. This here’s a big one too, I’d bet thirty pounds or close to it. Y’all like catfish?”

They got talking about catfish. They all loved catfish. Mama fried it up every chance she got, the older girl said.

They talked as Travis cut and cleaned. He learned where they lived. It was on the other side of the creek a couple miles closer to town in the Black section. Their Dad was a truck driver and was away a lot. Their Mom raised chickens and tended garden and cleaned houses in town. He learned their names. The boys were Nathan and Roy, the little girl was Joy. Mom was Jolene, Dad was Robert.

The older girl was Bettina. She was nineteen. She helped Mom with the kids and the chickens and the garden and worked at the drug store to help with the bills. Travis had a hard time looking away from her slim, trim body, her cute butt and her dark satiny skin. But he caught himself, shook it off. This was the south.

“How many of you are there living in your house?” Travis asked.

“Seven,” Bettina said. “Our grandmother lives with us too.”

Travis cut several long, thick pieces, about three pounds, and wrapped them up in parchment paper. He handed it to Bettina.

“There now,” he said. “Take that home with you. Fry it up. That will be a tasty dinner for your family.”

“Oh, you don’t have to do that, Mister Travis.”

“I know that, Bettina. But I want to. Just being a good neighbor, that’s all. And enough of that Mister stuff. Just call me Travis.”

“Okay. Travis. Thank you. And I’m sure my Momma thanks you too,” Bettina said.

“We’re gonna have a good supper tonight!” Nathan said enthusiastically.

Travis finished up his work and squirted off the table and washed the guts and remains into the creek.

“Now you all do me a favor,” Travis said. “Don’t go any closer to that river. It’s dangerous. You turn that boat around and head back home, you hear?”

The kids uttered a chorus of okays and Bettina said they would. She would take care of them.

“Okay good. Now I have to head into town. And I don’t want to hear about a boat sinking in the creek with four young people and three pounds of catfish in it!”

They all laughed and got back into the skiff. They said goodbye and Bettina got the motor started on the third pull. All four were waving back at Travis as they headed off in the direction from which they’d come.

Travis grabbed his cooler and put it in the bed of his truck and drove to town to sell his fish.

Travis had become a loner, but he wasn’t antisocial. If a situation presented itself he could be friendly and sociable, but he wasn’t naturally outgoing. Not any more. In high school he’d played trumpet in the band and starred on the football and baseball teams, he was tall, handsome and popular and had had a lot of friends. But now he’d lost touch with his old friends and the only times he played trumpet was when sometimes late at night he’d sit on his porch and improvise mellow mournful melodies. And somewhere out on the river was a sax player who’d sometimes answer him back with dirges of his own.

The damn war had taken so much from him. In less than a year his personal life had gone from being young and enthusiastic about the future to a hellish nightmare. First his brother went home in a body bag. Then he went over there. As soon as the door of the plane opened after landing in southeast Asia he knew instantly he was in Hell. It was like walking into a blast furnace; escort edirne he didn’t think anyplace on Earth got that fucking hot. Six days later he saw a soldier killed, the first of many he’d witness over the following months. The gore, the guts, the lacerated limbs. Then a mortar blew off part of his foot and ripped into his leg with sharp, hot metal, like razors. They sent him home a few weeks later to a place he barely recognized, and everything he saw was fogged by what he’d seen, by what had happened to his brother, and to himself, and by his fury and hatred and pain. And he also knew in his heart that the deaths of his parents were not unrelated to the war, either. The war had killed them too, residually.

So Travis was depressed. Angry, pissed, tired, anxious and depressed. That’s where the cabin came in. Get as far away from the nightmare as he could. Fish, hunt, sit on the porch and stare at the water and the shorebirds, play his trumpet.

And write. But the writing hadn’t been going so well. He knew he had a story to tell and knew that writing it would be his catharsis, his therapy. It would be the only way he could heal.

There was another thing that bothered him. It bothered him a lot. And he blamed the war for that too.

Travis was impotent. Never was before, but was now. He couldn’t remember exactly when he’d last had a hard-on, but it was sometime after he saw his first platoonmate perish before his eyes and sometime before he’d almost had his own leg blown off.

He’d tried many times since to get hard and jerk off, but without success. He’d about given up.

A few days later Travis was sitting on his porch drinking an Orange Crush. It was late afternoon and he was resting. He had just returned from town and was taking a rest before whipping up some supper.

He heard a familiar sound. It was the same putt-putt-putt of the outboard motor he’d heard a few days earlier when he’d had his visitors. As the sound got louder he saw the same skiff come into view. Bettina was alone this time. She aimed the bow at the dock and Travis walked down to greet her.

Travis secured the skiff and then took Bettina’s hand and helped her up onto the dock. It was the first time they’d touched and her hand felt small inside his own. When she stood close beside him after hoisting her up he realized she was taller than he remembered, maybe five-seven or -eight. She looked much more woman than child, he thought.

She had a basket with her. “For you,” she said. “From Momma and the family. As thanks for the great supper we had eating that catfish. We all enjoyed it. It was delicious!”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Travis said. “But this wasn’t necessary.”

“Just bein’ a good neighbor, that’s all. Right?”


He peeled back the towel and there were a crate of a dozen eggs, two huge red ripe tomatoes, a cucumber, a zucchini and a yellow squash.

“Oh, wow! Thank you.”

“All from our own garden and our own chickens!” Bettina said.

“These look great. Now I know what I’m having for supper. You care to join me, Bettina?”

“Oh, I can’t, Travis. I tole Momma I’d be back directly. I gotta watch the kids tonight.”

“Oh okay, uh, maybe some other time.”

“That would be fine,” she said.

They stood there for a moment frozen in silence.

“Let me put these inside and I can give you back this basket.”


Bettina didn’t mind staying a couple extra minutes. She followed Travis up to the porch. Travis put the eggs and vegetables on the table and handed the basket and towel to her.

“Now you be sure to thank your Mom and Dad for this. I surely appreciate it.”

“I will,” she said, looking around the porch and inside the open door. “You live here by yourself?”

“Yep, just me.”

“Don’t it get lonely?”

“Sometimes, I guess. But I’ve learned to like the solitude. Been thinking about getting a dog, though. Be nice having a dog around. To talk to, take fishing, ride in the truck.”

“We got a dog, a big ole terrier mix. Good dog, but he’s feisty. Gotta keep him away from the chickens.”

There was another silence as they stood looking each other in the eyes, fairly close. Travis felt like she was looking right through him. He wanted to touch her but knew he shouldn’t. Bettina felt the same way.

“Well, I better git going,” she said and turned to walk down to the dock.

Travis followed and helped her down into her skiff. He held her hand again and thought she had a pretty solid grip for a string bean. She started the motor and he tossed her lines into the boat. They waved and he watched her until she disappeared around the bend.

Bettina knew Travis’s schedule so she stopped by the cabin a number of times. She’d just drop by innocently, usually in the skiff, but a couple times she rode her bicycle all the way from town. They would sit in the rockers on the porch or on the sofa inside with edirne escort bayan a soft drink and talk. Travis was relieved and surprised by how easy she was to talk to and he enjoyed her visits. It was almost as if she could pull the diffidence out of him and he found himself slowly opening up, like coming out of a shell one hairline crack at a time.

She asked him personal questions, questions that used to make him shrivel up and turn away. But with Bettina somehow, he talked.

‘Why you limp?’ she asked, and he told her all about the war, seeing so much bloodshed and being sent home after almost getting his leg blown off.

‘Where’s your family?’ she asked, and he told her about their deaths, and the circumstances.

‘You play trumpet at night, don’t you?’ she asked, after seeing the instrument sitting bell-down on a table in the corner. He nodded and she said, ‘I know, I listen’.

Travis would stop in at the drug store when he was in town selling his fish or running errands. He’d sit on one of the red-cushioned stools at the fountain and get a soda and hope to see Bettina. She was often there and they would chat a little, share a smile or two, maybe even flirt a bit, and the camaraderie did not go unnoticed by shoppers and employees. Travis soon noticed people eyeing him in a new, different way as he made his way around to the market, the hardware store, the post office and the bank. Bettina heard the whispers too.

Bettina’s parents got wind of it, and were none too happy about it. But Bettina didn’t care, she was almost twenty years old and she had found a new friend, and he wasn’t some stuck-up prig from this Podunk southern town, and she liked him, and she didn’t care what color he was or what the neighbors thought.

Bettina went to the market on a Friday after work. There was a bulletin board in the front of the store where people tacked up posters and notices of all kinds. Bettina saw one that said ‘FREE DOG’. She called the number.

The woman who answered the phone said that they were getting ready to move to the city and they couldn’t take their dog. They hated to give her up but if they couldn’t find it a good home in the next few days, she would have to call the pound.

“What kind of dog is it?” Bettina asked.

“A Beagle-Corgi mix. She’s beautiful! Two years old, about twenty pounds, sweet as she can be and housebroken too.”

“And you’re giving her away?”

“Yes, just so she goes to a good home.”

“Can I see her?” Bettina asked.

“Of course, Dear.”

Bettina went straight over and fell in love immediately. Bella was her name and she was a big mushball, licking and kissing her all over her face and forehead and ears.

“She’s wonderful,” Bettina said. “I’d love to have her. Can I pick her up tomorrow?”

The lady said yes, it felt right, yes she could.

Bettina thanked the woman profusely and promised her Bella was going to have a very happy home.

The next day Bettina had to work in the morning until the afternoon. She got off work and went to the market and bought some dog food. She was hoping the lady would give her Bella’s collar and leash.

The lady was almost in tears as she said goodbye to Bella. Bettina thanked her over and over, and felt sad for her. But she felt good as she walked home with Bella on the leash, heeling on her left.

Late afternoon, Bettina and Bella were in the skiff together, puttering down the creek toward Travis’s cabin. Both were wearing life jackets (she knew Travis would get a kick out of that), and their cargo included a sack of dog chow and a metal bucket filled with toys, accessories and Bella’s tennis ball.

Travis was outside chopping wood when he heard the familiar outboard approaching. He put down his axe and hobbled toward his dock. His face broke into a wide grin when he saw Bettina and the dog approach, both with orange life vests around their necks.

“Brought you your new roommate,” Bettina said, as the boat slipped up against the dock. “Her name’s Bella. She’s a sweetie.” She tossed a line to Travis.

“Really?” he said, as he secured the boat. “For me?”

She handed the bucket and dog chow up to Travis. Bella jumped up onto the dock and immediately into Travis’s arms. He took the life jacket off.

“Yep, for you,” Bettina said. “You need somebody to take care of you.”

“You’re a great dog, aren’t you, Bella?” Travis said as he hugged her. “Friendly and pretty too, aren’t you?”

Travis picked up the tennis ball and threw it toward the house. Bella took off after it and immediately returned and dropped it at his feet. He threw it again, same result.

“A family was moving away and couldn’t take her,” Bettina said. “She was free to a good home. I told the lady I knew the best home for her.”

“You sure did, thank you. She’s beautiful. Thank you so much!”

He hugged Bettina and held her in his arms for a moment and felt the warmth of her body against his. He kissed her on her temple. He felt her arms around him, briefly. It was the first time. It felt overdue, and it felt good.

They walked up to the cabin. Travis filled a big bowl with fresh water and another bowl with chow and put them on the kitchen floor. Bella dove right in to both.

“The lady said Bella’s all house-trained, too.”

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