Chemistry and Other Stories by Ron Rash

The following is an excerpt from the story "Their Ancient Glittering Eyes" from Chemistry and Other Stories by Ron Rash, published by Picador.

Because they were boys, no one believed them, including the old men who gathered each morning at the Riverside Gas and Grocery. These retirees huddled by the potbellied stove in rain and cold, on clear days sunning out front like reptiles. The store’s middle-aged owner, Cedric Henson, endured the trio’s presence with a resigned equanimity. When he’d bought the store five years earlier, Cedric assumed they were part of the purchase price, in that way no different from the leaky roof and the submerged basement whenever the Tuckaseegee overspilled its banks.

The two boys, who were brothers, had come clattering across the bridge, red-faced and already holding their arms apart as if carrying huge, invisible packages. They stood gasping a few moments, waiting for enough breath to tell what they’d seen.

"This big," the twelve-year-old said, his arms spread wide apart as he could stretch them.

"No, even bigger," the younger boy said.

Cedric had been peering through the door screen but now stepped outside.

"What you boys talking about?" he asked.

"A fish," the older boy said, "in the pool below the bridge."

Rudisell, the oldest of the three at eighty-nine, expertly delivered a squirt of tobacco between himself and the boys. Creech and Campbell simply nodded at each other knowingly. Time had banished them to the role of spectators in the world’s affairs, and from their perspective the world both near and far was now controlled by fools. The causes of this devolution dominated their daily conversations. The octogenarians Rudisell and Campbell blamed Franklin Roosevelt and fluoridated water. Creech, a mere seventy-six, leaned toward Elvis Presley and television.

"The biggest fish ever come out of the Tuckaseegee was a thirty-one-inch brown trout caught in nineteen and forty-eight," Rudisell announced to all present. "I seen it weighed in this very store. Fifteen pounds and two ounces."

The other men nodded in confirmation.

"This fish was twice bigger than that," the younger boy challenged.

The boy’s impudence elicited another spray of tobacco juice from Rudisell.

"Must be a whale what swum up from the ocean," Creech said. "Though that’s a long haul. It’d have to come up the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi, for the water this side of the mountain flows west."

"Could be one of them log fish," Campbell offered. "They get that big. Them rascals will grab your bait and then turn into a big chunk of wood afore you can set the hook."

"They’s snakes all over that pool, even some copperheads," Rudisell warned. "You younguns best go somewhere else to make up your tall tales."

The smaller boy pooched out his lower lip as if about to cry.

"Come on," his brother said. "They ain’t going to believe us."

The boys walked back across the road to the bridge. The old men watched as the youths leaned over the railing, took a last look before climbing atop their bicycles and riding away.

"Fluoridated water," Rudisell wheezed. "Makes them see things."


From "Their Ancient Glittering Eyes" from Chemistry and Other Stories by Ron Rash. Copyright © 2007 by Ron Rash. Permission granted by Picador.