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The Biggest Damn Catfish Since 1948

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Braggadocio was a characterless little town with dirt roads for streets and a lonely stop sign, where strangers would stop and speculate, “who would live in a place such as this?” as they looked for a sign pointing elsewhere. No one ever came to Braggadocio, not to live that is. People in Braggadocio had been born there, the best part would die there, but there was one who would soon be plotting her escape. 
 
It was late October 1954, and the entire family was in the cotton fields of Rosie’s daddy. It was hot as hell, and Rosie waddled down the rows of cotton, never resting—for there is no rest for a baby factory, especially one as poor as Rosie. Another baby was another mouth to be fed, so even little Abby was in the fields, following behind her mama with her pillowcase for a cotton sack, picking a bit here and a bit there; at two and a half, nobody expected her to pick cotton—just stay where Rosie and the others could keep an eye on her. They couldn’t afford a babysitter, nor did they have a girl to stay home and look after her.
 
Rita, eighteen, was five months pregnant and been married four days to a young man called Marvin. Laura Lee, seventeen, had just started work at the hospital in Hayti as a nurse’s aid. Cora, sixteen, was prone to mood swings so severe, her parents swore there were two people in there sometimes fighting to get out. Emma, fifteen, surprised them all by popping out with red hair, and she had a personality as feisty as her hair color. Max, twelve, was the spitting image of his dad, wrapping everyone around his little finger.
 
Then there came a break. Thank you, Jesus. Was it finally over? Wasn’t life wonderful without diapers? But Sam went and hung his pants on the bedpost again and out popped Abby five years later. Rosie began praying yet again—please God, no more babies.
 
Sex wasn’t something discussed in those days, so Rosie warned her girls by saying outrageous things like, “Your daddy only had to put his pants on our bedpost, and I’d get pregnant.” Or, “If birth control had been around in my day, six of you would’ve been left up to my imagination.” Rosie’s biggest attention getter was, “Havin’ babies is like shittin’ a watermelon.” But Sam had done it again, damn him straight to hell.
 
The sun was so hot you could fry an egg, and it beat down on Rosie’s back as she leaned down picking her two rows, one on either side of her. She usually picked four rows at a time, but her belly wouldn’t let her make the stretch now. Rosie stood up straight to see how much further the cotton trailer was, and she wanted nothing more at that minute than to lie down in the shade of that trailer and have herself a long cool drink of water and put her feet up. It was then a pain shot up Rosie’s back, and with all the babies she’d had, she knew she was in trouble. Max and Abby had shot out so fast, Miss May had to come across from the store to catch them as they popped out. As she tried to stand upright her water broke; she knew then her baby was gonna spit right out. “SAM!”
 
Everybody in the fields heard the panic in Rosie’s voice and all came running. Rosie took the strap from off her shoulder and laid down on her cotton sack taking deep breaths as sweat rolled down her face.
 
Sam was useless when it came to this, and he started to panic.
 
“Rosie, what you doin’? You can’t have that baby out here.”
 
In the adjacent field, Big Sally Sherrod and her children, who had worked for Rosie’s daddy for years, heard Rosie’s scream and came running.
 
Big Sally began barking orders. “Gimme five sacks of cotton over here now. Stack four of ’em two high both sides of Miss Rosie. Mister Sam, empty that last sack between Miss Rosie’s legs and make sur’ there ain’t nothin’ but pure cotton. Poppy, you go and prop Miss Rosie up. Miss Rosie, don’t you worry, Big Sally’s here, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere. Yes ma’m, we gonna have us a baby. Anyone not having a baby, BACK OFF. Mister Sam, go fetch the water can from the cotton trailer; we gonna need it.”
 
Sam went running toward the trailer, mainly out of fright; he’d managed not to be present for any of the babies being born, and didn’t like the prospect of seeing one coming out now. 
 
Rosie cried out with each contraction, and Poppy held her hands to give her something to bear down on. Big Sally was nervous, and when she took a look between Miss Rosie’s legs, she started to babble.
 
“Miss Rosie, you heard what happened over in Hayti yesterday?  A baby girl, only five years old, went fishin’ with her daddy over on the river. That poor sweet child wondered off from the stupid son of a beyotch.”
 
Rosie was so hot, and when Sam got back with the water can, Big Sally poured water on her handkerchief, and Poppy started wiping Miss Rosie’s face. “Don’t worry Miss Rosie, you and this baby gonna be just fine. Now, as I was sayin’, that bastard hooked hisself a big old river cat, and plumb forgot about that poor baby. The deputies say he was drunker n' Cooter Brown, but drunk as he was, he fought that cat an hour ‘fore he pulled it out of the river. That’s when the dumb, drunk son of a beyotch discovered his baby gone. They now saying it’s the biggest damn catfish caught in these parts since 1948.” 
 
Sam, who stood at a distance so not to see Rosie’s spread, remembered that catfish—he drove all the way to Henderson’s Tackle to see it. It was gigantic, and a damn good fish fry after the weigh in.
 
“Okay, Miss Rosie, I need you to push, honey, push like you shittin’ a brick, come on child, you can do it.”
 
Rosie pushed with all her might, but with the full sun beating down on her and the cotton sacks being so uncomfortable, she swooned. “Poppy, pour more water on that kerchief and revive Miss Rosie.”
 
Rosie was only out a minute and as she came to, she hoped this had been a bad dream. “Miss Rosie, you rest a second and I’ll finish telling what happened in Hayti. ‘Em sheriff’s deputies found the child floatin’ face down in a pool of water, not more than knee deep. My cuzin helped take her body to the morgue—still clutchin’ her baby doll, poor thing. It just broke my heart,” Big Sally paused, looked between Rosie’s legs again and said, “Come on, hon, now I need ya to pop this baby on out. Now push!”
 
Rosie pushed as hard as she could, and the baby began sliding out, crying as the bright sunlight touched its eyes; Big Sally was there sheltering them with one hand while she caught the baby with the other. “Miss Rosie, you got yourself another girl,” Big Sally said as she placed the baby on Rosie’s stomach. “Mister Sam, you got a pocket knife on you? I need to cut the cord.’ Sam pulled out his knife, and as he handed it to Big Sally, he saw the bloody mess all over the cotton sack and passed out.
 
Big Sally cut the cord, then took the baby and wiped her down with fresh cotton; she took her flannel shirt off, wrapped the girl in it, and handed her back to her mamma.
 
“Big Sally, thank you, if you hadn’t of come…”
 
“Damn and tar nation, Miss Rosie, that baby would’ve popped out; I just caught the ball, is all.” Big Sally was proud as a peacock.
 
“I ’preciate it, just the same,” Rosie smiled at Big Sally then looked over her shoulder at Poppy and gave her hand a squeeze.
 
Sam came to, and his first words weren’t about his newborn baby, or even of his wife, but about that damn catfish. “How big was the fish?” Sam asked, but saw from the faces looking back at him that he’d screwed up.
 
Big Sally knew better than to give a white man a hard look, but she just couldn’t help herself; she shot Mister Sam a look that let him know she thought he was lower than that scum-sucking catfish pulled from the river.
 
“They talkin’ about giving that son of a bitch; excuse me, some kind of award for catchin’ that fish. I never thought I’d see the day the town would give an award for killin’ a child, cause that’s just what it was—he dun killed that baby girl. It just ain’t right, you hear what I’m saying? It just ain’t right.”
 
Big Sally put her hand on her generous hip and said, “You know what the strangest part of that story is? My cuzin said when that child was weighed down at the morgue she and that catfish both weight in at seventy-three and one-half pounds; can you believe it?”
 
“Damn, that was one fat kid!” blurted Sam.
 
Big Sally snapped her head around and shot him another look, and he immediately went silent, afraid Big Sally might sit on him.
 
“At that age it be nothin’ but baby fat,” retorted Big Sally, who was still carrying every ounce of her baby fat and then some.
 
“You wouldn’t happen to know the little girl’s name?” asked Rosie.
 
“Sur’ do. The child was called Magnolia Mae. Isn’t that a name for an angel?”
 
Big Sally took pity on Mister Sam. She smiled real big and said, “That fish is over yonder at Henderson’s—out on the back porch, they got it on ice. The daddy’s chargin’ fifty cents to take a picture with it; says all takings from the fish gonna pay for her funeral. Bless her heart. The fish fry starts at six o’clock sharp, around the side of Henderson’s. I just know that funeral be so beautiful with a little white coffin.”
 
Rosie brought her baby around to face her and said to her, “I’m your mamma, now what’s your name?” Rosie replied in a squeaky little voice, “My name’s Magnolia Mae.”
 
“Magnolia Mae—what a beautiful name. You know, Maggie Mae, I have a feeling that a name like that is gonna bring you some luck.”
 
“If you don’t mind me saying, Miss Rosie, it shoo didn’t bring any luck to the last girl any,” Big Sally said as she shuffled back to her cotton sack to start making up for time lost.


The Girl from Braggadocio
By Cathleen Sharpe
Now available on Amazon Kindle

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