Thursday, August 20, 2015

Fishing Lies

The day was young, but he didn't know what that meant. It was something the old man said, but he said it with a black-toothed smile that couldn't be questioned. It was almost like a prayer, a celebration, sometimes tinged with wonder - rarely flavored by regret.

The boy had slept soundly, and his head was thick with sleep. His clothes were on the floor beside the bed, and he shivered as he forced his body into the cold, damp cloth. It was the only thing he hated about the cabin. Always cold. Never dry.

The heat of the kitchen was a welcome oasis. The smell of bacon and eggs awakened something in him. Even the smell of the coffee, which he did not drink, was some kind of wonder. Promise. Something.

"You sleep alright, son?"

"Yes, sir."

"No dreams?"

The boy always dreamed, but he knew what the old man meant.

"Nope. It's getting better, I think."

The old man nodded and shoved a forkful of eggs into his mouth, small pieces dangling from the grey thatch of beard. He sprinkled some more hot sauce over his plate, and the boy's eyes watered. Their eyes met.

"You alright, boy?"

"I'm okay. The hot sauce..."

The old man nodded. They both pretended that they believed. There was an acceptance of half-truths between them. They cultivated these lies and wrapped themselves in the warmth, or semblance of warmth, they provided. Things were too cold, in general - they did not question their need. It was the same reason the boy did not object to being called boy, even though he was closer to a man than a boy. Besides, he did not feel like a man.

"Might rain light today, but I figure we'll get out there. Good fishing on days like today. You up for it?"

"Sure, sure I'm up for it."

They both smiled. Real smiles - the kind that felt natural on their faces, not the frosting smiles they wore most of the time. Nothing would stop them from fishing. It was something they both knew, an inside joke that had no punchline. They did not often hug. They did not talk about love, the love they'd both lost or the love they felt for each other - they did not let themselves open that door, it led to a darkness they could not revisit.

*****

He stood with the water pushing against his waders. He liked the feeling - it was a kind of encouragement. The old man was downstream, but every so often their eyes met and they both wondered the same thing - how could it be that they always looked at the same time, or were there times when anxious eyes reached out toward intent expression, concentration? There was a panic there. A panic they did not acknowledge. 

The rain started mid-morning, but it was a gentle rain - they were cold, but not cold enough to be uncomfortable. They were cold enough to know that dinner would taste better than a can of beans and some bacon has a right to taste.

The day marched toward evening. They caught fall fish and chubs. The old man pulled a small bass from the water and smiled, holding it up for a moment so the boy could see. As afternoon stretched, they began to disappear. Their breathing became shallow and silent. They could hear woodpeckers in the distance. They smelled the wet, life-smell of the land. They became fishermen, fingers gentle on the line, senses tuned into something that lived both inside and out. The old man had a name for it. The fish place. It was a place of safety, and it was something they shared - something they had always shared - a kind of meditation, though they would never use the word.

The sun was dropping behind the hills when the man walked to the bank and started back. They had covered a mile or so of water. It was time to go back. It was a good time, closure. 

Determined to fish until the old man was standing next to him, the boy cast toward a riffle that had eluded him for almost half an hour. Not anymore. 

It was a magic cast; he punched the fly through a crack in the leaves that overhung the water. The fly danced in the froth before swirling and coming to rest at the edge of a deep hole. The old man was beside him now. He did not look, and the old man was about to speak when a trout sucked in the fly. The boy raised the rod tip with a quick, firm jerk. The rod doubled over and the boy raised it over his head, eyes wide. They both watched the line swing from one side of the pool to the other.

They did not speak because there was nothing to say. The boy pulled in line when he could and it collected around him. The fight lasted several minutes before they saw the fish, a flash of silver in the water. It was a big one. They had both caught bigger, but they had sure caught a lot that were smaller. Their eyes met and they smiled. 

When the trout was finning gently beside his boot, the boy laughed out loud. 

"Well, I'll be damned."

"You got that right. Big, but hell, pretty ... I don't know as I've ever seen a trout that pretty. Like a little kid went wild with the finger paints."

The boy nodded and reached into the water, numb fingers finding the barbless hook - it slipped out like magic. The old man slapped him on the back, too hard, but it wasn't malicious. And there was no jealousy. This was communion. They stood and looked at the riffles that led to the big hole and, though they did not put it into words, they both thought the same thing: you never know where things will end up. How things will play out. 

They both jumped when they heard the sharp, city voice behind them.

"I got a look, that was a nice fish. Fish like that makes good eating."

The words sounded unnatural, as if spoken by someone learning a new language. They looked at the man, sized him up. His waders were new and his outfit matched perfectly. It was like he stepped out of the Orvis catalogues that came monthly, even though they never bought anything. They chuckled at the catalogue some evenings. They did not judge the man, but they did not appreciate his presence. The boy tensed, and his arms began to shake. The old man put a gentle arm around his shoulder and forced on a frosting smile. 

"We don't kill fish anymore. A man makes his own decisions, and I'm not preaching, but the fish is back where it belongs and we ain't starving."

The cardboard man chuckled. 

"You get tired of the taste?"

The old man tried to speak. Cleared his throat. Tried again. Coughed into his handkerchief, which had come out to stop the tears which only the boy recognized. 

"Taste's got nothing to do with it. Trout taste fine."

The man stood for a moment before waving a puzzled wave and moving on. The boy's breath was shaky, and silent tears glistened on his cheeks.

"That was a hell of a fish, son. A hell of a day. Forget about him. He'll break his rod and be back in New York by the end of the week."

"I know ..."

"You can't blame him - he didn't know."

The boy looked into the canopy of the forest and wondered if there was more beyond the sky, the clouds - he hoped there was, but he had his doubts. But it would suffice. The water, the old man - the fish, beautiful and proud. He had that, and that was enough.

The old man was thinking something along the same line - lying to himself. But it was alright because they both knew.

There are lots of reasons that fishermen lie. 

6 comments:

  1. My God this is beautiful... and I don't even like to fish.

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  2. Wow, that is great writing! Loved this. :-)

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  3. Dan, your insider perspective on the zen of fishing adds even more to this piece. I agree with Leland. It's beautiful. Beautiful writing, beautiful story, beautiful philosophy, beautifully realized. Thank you for continuing to write flash fiction.

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    Replies
    1. Thank YOU for the kind words, lady.

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