I GO DOWN TO THE CREEK behind my house every Saturday morning. The creek is at the base of the hill, on my side of the neighborhood. The Derbez brothers usually meet me there. They live a few houses down from me on the same side of the street so their backyard turns into the creek too. We consider ourselves lucky to have the creek behind us since most everyone else, when they look out the window, sees nothing but more houses.
The water in the shallow parts is clear and flows over smooth black rocks, some engraved with fossils of snakes and small fish. In deeper parts, the water is murky and moves faster than it looks. Near the rocky parts, especially where the trees grow into the water and the grass is tall, we fish for crawdads.
We tie leftover scraps of bacon to strings and dip them into the water. The crawdads jump like mad. Their eyes, two little black beads resting atop their heads, swell up to the size of marbles. The brothers aren’t that good at catching them yet but they’re learning. "Just wait for the little suckers to bite and then pull up nice and slow," I tell them. "Give them time to get on there tight." When you do pull one up, it opens and closes its pincers to let you know it’d rather be back in the water, eating algae and rubbing against rocks instead of hanging there, scared. You pinch the crawdad between your fingers, and its tail fans open and flips at your skin, as it tries to scuttle away. When it taps you, if you’re not used to it, a jolt goes through your body and you drop the sucker, setting it free. This happens to the Derbez brothers almost every time.
I’ve been fishing for crawdads since I was seven. Dad taught me how because he said it’s important to know in case I ever get lost in the woods. He told me I could eat them or use them to fish with or both. I told the Derbez brothers the same thing. When they get good, we’re going to walk all the way to the end of the creek, catching crawdads as we go. We want to see the exact spot where our water turns into the river’s water, where it stops trickling over rocks, swirls into the mighty current, and starts pulling rusty barges south.
One time I saw a crawdad leave his old body and grow into a new one. I was on the far end of the creek, where the water speeds up a little and spins twigs and fallen leaves towards a tiny waterfall. The crawdad was hiding in between two stones, away from all the others. He started shaking a little and rolled over on his back, moving his legs and pincers like he was trying to get right side up. I didn’t touch him because I could tell he was working on something important. His body cracked just a little, then his pincers and legs worked their way through their old shell. A few minutes later his old shell popped right off, got caught up in the current and twirled its way about a foot downstream until it scraped up against a log and came to a rest. The crawdad, big and fresh, paused and then stretched. He made his way over to the log where his old body rested and nestled up next to it. He waited there for a minute, still, and then snapped up his old body with his left pincer, and then slowly began to eat. I could hear the crunch. Dad said this process is called moulting and crawdads have to do it to make themselves stronger.
"Does eating your fingernails make you stronger then?" I asked.
"Because men don’t moult."
There are parts of the creek that are deep enough to swim in. I go with my little brother, Ben, to a cove about 60 paces west of our house. It’s in that cove where we found out Ben’s reflection is not really his reflection. We found out when Ben was swinging across the cove on the rope swing, about to drop into the water, and I saw something shoot across the surface and stop right where Ben dove in. Ben got out of the water, yelling, "Did you see that! Did you see that!"
"Yeah, those colors! All that light!"
Ben looked straight at me. "That light," he said, gasping, out of breath. "That light was a boy!"