I spent the month before reinforcing the mudsills under the camp and nailing up extra floor joists. Then, I called my insurance agent and took out an umbrella policy in case someone got hurt. Meanwhile, Steve got a local band called The Leavin’ Brothers to play for us. The duties of obtaining beer kegs, whole hog, custom T-shirts and snacks were divided between my other friends and their wives.
When the day finally arrived, July heat fell over the swamp like hot breath, and I wondered for the first time why we didn’t choose a cooler month.
“How many people you think are comin’?” my friend asked me.
“I don’t know. Guess that depends on who all can get a boat ride out here. Then they have to find it.”
Just before noon, The Leavin’ Brothers arrived with the band equipment and set up on the deck. The hog was arranged on the picnic table, and a beer keg was positioned out front. The wives arranged hors d’oeuvres on the screen porch and stocked the bathroom with toilet paper. I piddled about the place, checking the electric generator, moving scrap lumber out of the way, trying to stay ahead of the trash that was starting to flutter about the camp.
It wasn’t long before boats started moving into the Bay like it was D-Day. There were only about 50 guests, but that’s a lot of boats, and I’d never had more than 10 people on my camp at any one time. The guests tied to the dock, helped their wives and girlfriends out, and lugged their ice chests into the crowd. The Leavin’ Brothers pumped out country music, and I imagined the swamp creatures peering from the jungle, thoroughly confused.
People arrived all afternoon. Many of the guests I’d never seen before: swamp people lured from their boxes like moths to flame. Shirtless and sweating and drinking their own brands of beer.
“Whose place is this?” they asked.
“Show him to me.”
“He’s over there.”
“You sellin’ those T-shirts?”
“Yeah. Want one?”
As evening set in, most of the guests motored away. The whole hog was fly-covered and stripped mostly to the spine. The beer keg floated in ice water, and sacks of garbage were stacked against the wall. The Leavin’ Brothers were too full of beer to continue playing and stumbled about with the rest of the remainders. The radio played AC/DC “Back in Black, ” and a swamp couple slow danced to it in their bathing suits.
Finally, the wives and girls and swamp people were all gone, and a group of friends were left to spend the night. With so many people coming and going out of the camp, it was impossible to keep the door closed. Running the air conditioner was useless. And once night fell, the insects poured in. We gathered into the steaming bug box and huddled around poker games or stood about wiping our foreheads with the backs of our arms.
Someone yelled “close the door!” every few minutes.
The radio played out on the deserted deck, and frogs and other swamp creatures came out of shock and resumed their normal activities. Eventually someone dragged what remained of the hog inside and flopped it onto the bar. A few people had thought to bring their own dinner and made trips back and forth to the grill.
There were only beds for six, and that left the floor for the rest. But no one was going to sleep until the poker game was finished. Those that tried lay in bunks above the poker table, slowly basting in cigar and cigarette smoke, listening to the banter of man talk yelled out below. Moths and mosquitoes and flies hung in the hot air. There was nothing to do but smother oneself away beneath a bed sheet and hope it would all be over soon.
Just as the poker game ended, everyone who ate the hog rushed outside and got sick. Fortunately, they remained curled up on the porch in the fetal position, leaving enough open beds and floor space for the rest of us. The door was finally shut for the night, and the air conditioner resumed its slow, futile work. I lay beneath my thin sheet feeling like someone in a battlefield, with the wounded and dying all around me. I tried to look forward to something, but I knew all daylight would bring was a cleanup of the weapons and poisons that put us there.
A half hour later, sunlight bled through the windows. People moaned and rolled over and buried their faces in their pillows. No one even had the energy to comment. I gave up trying to sleep, climbed down from my bunk and crossed the battlefield. I walked out onto the deck and made my way around the hog eaters. Bill was lying on the dock, cooling his face and scalp with a wet rag.
“Man, ” he mumbled. “We should have this party every year.”
“I know, ” I said. “That was awesome.” MB
Watt Key is an award-winning novelist who grew up on the Bay in Point Clear. His third novel, “Fourmile, ” which was released last September, received a coveted Starred Review from Kirkus Reviews.
text by Watt Key • illustration by Kelan Mercer