Earl and Larry had been fishing the Arkansas River for more years than either of them wanted to contemplate. Actually, fishing would be a fancy name for what they were doing out there. Meditating would be closer to the truth, since they rarely came home with anything to show for it except an easier mind and a calmer demeanor. You would not have wanted to accuse Earl and Larry of committing meditation, however. The old bastards might have cleaned your clock for accusing them of an act they didn't understand.
"I got up about 4:30 this morning. What time is it now, Earl?" Larry asked as he tossed another worm overboard into the murky river.
"It's getting' close to baloney sambich time; I can tell you that." Earl was facing west and Larry was facing east. This is how it usually went. They didn't spend much time looking at each other, which was probably a good thing since neither of them were growing old very gracefully.
"I guess my old woman's pissed off at me 'cause I ain't gonna be in church again this Sunday. I reckon if she's mad, she can just get glad."
"Yep. I reckon," Earl said with very little conviction.
"Hey, Earl. Did I tell you what the preacher said to me the other day when I ran into him at Wal-Mart? He said I better start worryin' about the Hereafter. I told him, 'Hell, preach. I worry about it ever day. I can't go into a room in the house without thinkin', "What the hell am I here after?"'"
"That's the third time you've told me that one this year, Larry. You gettin' Old Timers disease, ain't you?"
The water was choppy and brown, like it always was when a storm was coming through. They'd been rained on, hard, twice since they got out on the river that morning. And it looked like it wasn't over with yet. Any sensible man would have stayed home and found another excuse not to go to church, but this was a habit for Earl and Larry, as it was for the men in the other three boats which were within eyesight.
Earl and Larry liked to fish about 500 yards off of the pylons holding up I-40. That way, they could see the heavy traffic flying across from Arkansas to Oklahoma. This was one of the main arteries for East/West traffic in the country. They could have caught more fish if they got underneath the bridge, like the other three boats, but they liked watching the big trucks and the little cars fly by around 60 feet above them. It reminded both of them of all the places they'd never been and all the sights they never would see. But they didn't discuss this. That would have been like admitting to practicing meditation. They wouldn't have understood in words what their souls understood with perfect clarity.
Jamie couldn't take her eyes off of the horses' butts. She was sitting in the middle of the back seat (HER back seat) and watching the horses' butts between her dad's right shoulder and her mom's left. They'd been following this horse trailer for at least twenty miles, and Jamie had been thinking the funniest thoughts to herself and snickering like a 6 year-old will do sometimes. Some of her thoughts were unhappy; like, how do those two horses feel, being cooped up in that trailer, side by side, going who knows where? Were they going to the glue factory she'd heard about on TV one day? But, like a 6 year-old can do, she pushed those thoughts aside and allowed the fun stuff to take over. Finally, she couldn't hold one particular thought in any longer.
"Daddy! Daddy! What would happen if those horses pooped and it flew all over our windshield?" She held her hands in front of her mouth to stifle the giggles, since she wanted this to be taken as a serious scientific query.
"Jamie! Stop talking like that. You know that's not nice," her mom said, while hitting her husband's leg, out of Jamie's eyesight, for giggling along with his little girl.
They'd gotten married late in life, and Jamie was their only child. She'd be the only child, too, because of the trouble her mom had during her birth. She'd been born two months premature, and there was a very troubling period during which is was not sure the doctors could even hold off delivery until that point. Everything had turned out OK for the little two and a half pounder, but they'd been advised not to try again or the next time might not be so pleasant. That was fine with them, because they felt a bit too old to be having more kids at this point in their lives, anyway. Plus, Jamie had made them complete. She had made them understand. That was all they needed.
So this rainy Memorial Day weekend, they were on their way from Memphis to Tulsa to visit Jamie's only living grandparent. It was a long drive, but once they crossed the Arkansas line in Fort Smith, it was only about another hour, and they felt as if they were practically there already. They'd be there in plenty of time for lunch, and it was sure to be grandma's fried chicken and mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas and cornbread.
"Why do the horses even have tails, daddy?" Jamie asked quite seriously.
"So if they poop, it won't fly all over our windshield, of course."
This time, his wife couldn't help but giggle along with her other two kids.
Earl was the first one of the two to notice the barge on the other side of the bridge. He saw it out the corner of his left eye, and it seemed obvious that something was amiss. He'd seen enough of these barges come under that stretch of bridge over the years to know where the channel was and where it was not. This barge looked as if it was way off course, but Earl didn't say anything about it, thinking that the guy behind the wheel must know what he was doing.
Then Larry saw the same thing out of the corner of his right eye. "Hey, Earl. What the hell is that barge doing way over there? That dumbass is gonna run us over if he don't watch it."
"Yeah, I was wondering the same thing. But I'm more worried about him hittin' the bridge than I am him runnin' us over. I can get this boat out of his way if he gets close to us. But look at the way he's headed."
Then, as both of the men turned in the boat to face the sight unfolding before them, they sucked in their breaths and watched dumbfounded as the barge slammed into the very middle pylon of the bridge. As if in slow motion, the entire west end of the middle section of the bridge collapsed into the water, with the east end hanging on, creating what looked for all the world just like a huge concrete impromptu boat ramp.
The cars and trucks which were on the section either fell over the side as the roadway collapsed, or slid down the new boat ramp at high speeds into the water, on top of each other.
Earl and Larry began to realize plainly what had just happened. They both immediately thought of the other three boats which had been underneath the bridge when it collapsed. Then, as if they were a team of professional disaster watchers who knew exactly where to look and when, their eyes focused upwards to the cars and trucks which were now flying off of the Interstate at 70-80 MPH into mid air, looking just like little Batmobiles, except without the fancy magic stuff that kept them from dying.
How helpless they felt. Larry reached for the cell phone in the boat, but he realized, even as he dialed 911, that many more people were about to die before some alert trucker realized the situation and blocked the road. He understood that his call would be meaningless, but he made it anyway.
As the phone was ringing, he and Earl watched as a Chevy pickup pulling a horse trailer went flying off the bridge. Right behind it was a silver Toyota Camry with a little girl's screaming face plastered to the rear window.
"Poor little baby," said Earl. He was crying tears to match the raindrops as it fell for the third time that day.