Lake Effect, Spring 2013, Volume 17: from Under the Chicago River

J.T. Ledbetter


from Under the Chicago River

“We had cockroaches in the dressin room when I worked the sewers in those days—millions of them crawlin into our lunch sacks. It got so bad we brought in a sack of frogs and they bugged their eyes and flipped out those long tongues and snatched cockroaches off the ground and back into their mouths for days.” Jurl looked at me and waited. “After awhile the frogs got so fat they couldn’t jump, so we threw em into the river.” He looked at me over his Moon Pie and big orange. “Just chucked them right back,” he said. “Did you ever see a mess of frogs swimmin?”

“Chicago’s got rats. My sister-in-law found two in her baby’s crib and swung at em with a duster but hit the baby.  Alfred, her husband, came home and got out his father’s 16 gauge and blew a hole in the wall then beat the rats to death with a Louisville Slugger.” I watched the big clock on the wall, waiting for the whistle. It had been a long hot day in the sewers.

“I knew a man once over to Hillsboro, no, Litchfield, who had a Red-Bone Hound who could track Moses his ownself over the desert wastes, as they say in the soaps. That dog had a nose. Have you seen a Red-Bone Hound?” A large shadow like spilled ink slid under the door of our locker room. Jurl drained the last of his big orange and spat at the door. “It’s the Foreman,” he whispered, “seein if we’re leavin early.” He watched me to see if I was still listening. “That dog tracked a possum as high in the tree as that possum could climb, then grabbed him at the neck just as the possum jumped and they both went flyin out of that tree, and when they hit the ground the hound gave one swing and broke the possum’s neck and that was all she wrote.”

The ink spot retreated from under the door so we took off our coveralls and called it a day. Jurl walked in silence, then stopped. “That Red-Bone Hound was my dog. I raised him from a pup and trained him to hunt. I used to make a little fire in the woods and wait till I heard his voice—like a deep iron bell, and I knew from the sound whether he was on the trail or had treed somethin.” I watched his mouth twitch, and his jaw drop open. “When I didn’t hear him anymore I went off lookin and you know where I found my dog? He had chased a big old raccoon into Shoal Creek and that Coon had turned on him and grabbed him with those claws they got and pushed him under till he drowned. Big raccoons will do that to a dog, even a big one like Red. Red was his name. I buried him next to the creek and never got another dog up to and includin today.  I could not bear to raise another.”