When Merlin died, I put all his antlers, mounted deer heads and fish along with his tarnished coronets and horns into his aluminum outboard motorboat and started the engine. I pushed the boat into Green Bay and watched as it sputtered and began to move away from the shored. I remembered that the Vikings had put their dead warriors in their wooden ships, set them afire, and sent them out to sea.
         Well, Merlin was no Viking warrior by my standards. He was just a pillager of the Wisconsin forest. I hated his sports. As far as the music was concerned, it was a rallying cry for riflemen and archers at the start of the season. Merlin liked brass bands, Fourth of July parades. He especially like the marching bands at football games. You might say he was the All-American boy.
         Unfortunately, I fell in lust with him at age eighteen and married him. I married his fishheads and antlers too. This boatload of crap was going to have a nice Viking send-off, of sorts. Forget the fire, it would attract too much attention. I would have put Merlin's body in the boat too. But, you know, there's state laws against disposing of a body that way, so I had him cremated. That was his request anyway. I didn't want to keep an urn on the mantelpiece as some folks do, nor did I want the ashes buried on the ten-yard line of the Green Bay Packers field as he specified in his Last Will and Testament. I suppose I would have tried to do it, if I really had loved him. It wouldn't have been all that difficult to sneak into the stadium at night and make a teensy hole for the ashes and smooth it over with a patch of sod, but I had better ideas for him. I rolled the ashes into catfish bait and went fishing one night along the river back of the power plant. They were biting something fierce that night, gobbling up those sticky balls like "bon appetit" all over.
         I watched the boat for a while and then left the secluded spot by the shore. I walked back to where I had parked the pick-up truck-his pick-up truck-the vehicle I intended to sell for a sedan just as soon as I could. I stopped at the grocery store/gas station combo on my way home.
         "I'll sure miss Merlin," ole Art the Fart, as we called him, said, adding up my bread and milk. "It won't be quite right, his not stopping here for a six-pack on his way up to the lakes."
         I nodded, "He was one in a million. No husband like him."
         "Anything you need, Faye, you just holler. Mae and I'd be glad to help."
         "Thanks. I'll get by, the Lord willing." I pulled out a kleenex from my skirt pocket and daubed my nose.
         "Yeah, ole Merlin was quite a guy," Art said. I turned and left the store.
         "Merlin was a pain in the ass," I muttered as I revved up the pick-up.
         Without those fish and deer staring at me from all sides, my house was now a home-not the ecological disaster area Merlin had made it. He complained about my bird feeders in the backyard and my rabbit hutches. He hated my hobby of raising Belgian bunnies, mainly because he had to build the hutches and that kept him from going fishing several Saturdays in a row.
         "Dammit, Faye! Those things multiply. They're screwing all the time!"
         Well, Merlin and I had stopped screwing years ago. Blame me, if I got some vicarious thrills out of watching Nature do what it's supposed to do.
         I told Mae this one day while she was giving me a home perm. The so-called forty-two year old "boys" were out hunting-it was deer season.
         "Honey, that's life. They're past their prime. The drive slows down for them, but our old drive picks up speed about this time. Nature must have goofed up on that one."
         That answer didn't satisfy me. Furthermore, from what I could see, Nature seemed to know pretty much what it was doing. So, our marriage had lost its magic. It happens to a lot of couples, right? To be exact, it lost its magic about a day after the ceremony. Merlin wanted to go fly-fishing in Idaho on our honeymoon. I wandered along the mountain brooks while he stood in his hip boots in the water flicking his pole all day long. As for the sleeping bag routine, he could flick his fishing pole all day long, but once was enough for him in the sack.
         Merlin was able to play a few notes more on his bugle. You wouldn't exactly call him a magician with his music, but he tried. Sometimes he stood out in the yard, practicing a Sousa tune. All he succeeded in doing was scattering the birds. He never polished his brass instruments. He expected me to do that, as he expected me to clean the fish and dress the deer when we first married. I set him straight on both scores right away. He did the cleaning of his game, but he never polished his instruments. Therefore, the job never got done.
         After a few years, I saw the belly start to protrude on the hunk of a man I had married. Remember, I was in lust? I thought his body was beautiful, hairy chest, big biceps and all. You get the picture? There were the kids, you know, the house and animals to take care of. Each of the three kids had to have a cat and a dog apiece. Robbie had to have an aquarium and Ted wanted to raise guinea pigs. Then, Trisha had to have her horse. Do you know who walked the horse all night when it had gas? Me!
         Merlin was great with cars though. I have to give credit where credit is due. He kept the clunkers going we had to buy because he always had to have his brand-new pick-up truck and motorboat. With three kids on a garage mechanic's salary, something's got to give-and it was me with my home perms and garage sale shoes.
         The last kid graduated and joined the navy just before Merlin croaked on a chicken bone at the Firemen's Ball last month. It took me all that time to collect all his taxidermy and junk, load it up and get ready to hitch up the boat to haul it out of here.
         I opened a can of apple juice and settled down in my favorite chair that night, happy the "Noah's Ark"-or should I say "Merlin's Ark" was bobbing somewhere out on Green Bay that night. I put on my bird call record and luxuriated in the music of my feathered friends. My girlfriends marveled how well I was doing without Merlin. Mae, particularly, never failed to comment on my "togetherness"-as she called it.
         A few weeks later I ran into Mae at the Ben Franklin store downtown.
         "Do you know what a Canadian shipper ran into in the middle of Lake Michigan?"
         "No, can't imagine," I answered.
         "A motorboat full of antlers, stuffed fish and deer heads-besides a bunch of brass instruments."
         "You're out of your head. Who'd do a cockeyed thing like that? Some maudlin sense of humor," I offered.
         Mae squinted. "I thought maybe you'd know something about it."
         I winked and whispered to her, "Let's keep it a secret like we've done with everything else, okay?"
         I left her standing on the sidewalk. Poor Mae. She still had Art to deal with.