Out here on the Chene our skiffs flare out on the sides so they float high like an acorn cap; it makes them quick to steer with an extra push on one oar or the other. This skiff floated deep and straight like a water trough or a coffin.
It was big in every way--longer, wider and higher than anything we use around here. How it didn’t get hung up coming around some of those tight bends, I couldn’t tell. Wouldn’t have made it in low water, that’s for sure. The more I studied that set up, the dog seemed the most normal looking thing about it.
It didn’t take nothing for me to snag that blue and black oddity with my paddle as it went past. I always keep a knife handy for the day a line’s gonna wrap around my leg just when I toss a net or anchor overboard. It happens to every fisherman at least once, and I know my time’s coming. Could be what happened to the owner of that skiff.
That morning I used it to saw through the line towing that dog. Then I lifted her out of the water and laid her on my seat. All four legs still there, a miracle considering the number of gators paddling these waters. That meant the body hadn’t been overboard long, probably just a few hours.
Black and stocky she was with a square, broad head. Her muzzle was white and freckled like a bird dog, and there was bayou water puddled in the flap. Sharp white teeth, so she was young. Patch of white fur run across the chest and down her stomach. Sturdy black legs ending in white feet, kind of webbed between the toes. Never saw such before. She would’ve been a strong swimmer, probably kept up with the boat longer than most dogs.
A wedge of ear flopped down over one eye. Don’t ask me why, but I moved it. That very second her eyelid quivered like the tail of a squirrel trying to decide whether to run or not. I pushed my hand flat against her chest, right under the front leg. It was cold as death and dripping, but way down deep I felt the faintest beat tapping against my hand. "
A selection from Postmark Bayou Chene:
"It all started with that empty skiff, if you ask me. Oh, I’d a noticed it right off because of the colors, even if it hadn’t come floating around the bend empty. Unless, of course, you counted the dog, which I did. Wasn’t in the skiff so much as floating alongside, towed by the bowline around its neck.
I was bailing rain water out of my boat when here it comes looking like an alligator gone blind. It bumped into Ron Theriot’s log dock like it was looking for something and then poked its nose into a mat of willow roots on the bank. That’s when the current caught the stern around, the willows let go of the bow, and that dog’s body swung out just as graceful as a cast net. That’s when I saw it was a skiff not built around here. Blue and black, at that!
About Postmark Bayou Chene
In the heart of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, a letter sent from an isolated settlement, addressed to Hautes-Pyrénées, France, and marked undeliverable, shows up at the local post office. That same day locals find a dog, nearly dead and tethered to an empty skiff. Odd yet seemingly trivial, the arrival of a masterless dog and a returned letter triggers a series of events that will dramatically change the lives of three friends and affect all of the residents of Bayou Chene.
Gwen Roland’s debut novel, set in 1907 in a secluded part of Louisiana, follows young adults Loyce Snellgrove, her cousin Lafayette “Fate” Landry, and his friend Valzine Broussard as they navigate between revelations about the past and tensions in the present. Forces large and small—the tragedies of the Civil War, the hardships of swamp life, family secrets, as well as unfailing humor—create a prismatic depiction of Louisiana folk life at the turn of the twentieth century and provide a realistic setting for this enchanting drama.
Roland anchors her work in historical fact and weaves a superb tale of vivid characters. In Postmark Bayou Chene she uses the captivating voice that described the beauty and challenges of the swamp to legions of readers in her autobiographical Atchafalaya Houseboat. Her ear for dialogue and eye for detail bring the now-vanished community of Bayou Chene and the realities of love and loss on the river back to life in a well-crafted, bittersweet tribute.