The cold crispness of the morning air snaps me clean out of my peaceful sleep. I was having such a wonderful dream too.
I mumble a weak protest full of sleep.
I cringe as the too small blanket swishes off my shivering body. No going back to sleep now. I rub the sleep out of my eyes and try to crack them open. A blurry vision of my father’s flannel covered back blinks in and out of existence.
I cover my eyes with my hand as the lights snap on. He always did this. Never told me his plans. I planned on sleeping in. There could only be one thing he wanted.
He stands there.
He walks out.
I slide out of bed and turn the light off and dress in the dark. Artificial light shouldn’t be seen this early in the morning. Not even the earth wants light on our side of the planet. At least not yet.
Dawn’s pale light lengthens the sky by the time we launch the small boat into the water. My boots are wet from the heavy overnight dew.
A stick hangs from the side of my father’s mouth. We drift a little ways into the still pond water. The sky turns a mottled orange. For a moment, everything is right in the world. Perfection. Unsullied. Orgasmic. The spell is broken as a heavy fog settles low over us. The hum of the trolling motor breaks the silence. I click on the fog lamp and lean forward in the bow as the water breaks. There’s no danger of hitting another boat and we were likely the only people around for miles. I pull my camo jacket closer to my neck against the cool, damp air.
My dad clears his throat, breaking the still silence. The pond seems to reel against the effort. He hocks a loogie somewhere, hopefully I’ll never see it.
The boat stops.
I sit up and grab my rod. I plunge my fingers into the can of worms we caught yesterday. The moist soil smells strong of peat and strangely, snuff. My fingers grab soft mushiness and I try to pull out the slithering worm but it struggles to stay in the soft soil. A futile effort yet I can’t help but respect it. People say worms feel no pain and don’t experience fear, but it sure feels like pain as I slide its body over the barbed hook. It squirms. This way. That way. But it succumbs. No choice. I set the bobber and a quick flick sends the tackle out a few yards.
Time to wait.
It’s a quiet morning, but the fish just aren’t biting. My father has rebaited and cast dozens of times. Birds begin chirping and insects begin to rise from little bubbles breaking the surface.
Bugs are biting more than the fish.
He reels in his line and starts the electric motor.
I start reeling in when there’s a little tug on the bobber. As I reel harder, the resistance is unmistakable.
I got one!
I keep reeling as the boat keeps moving. It’s a good fighter but small enough that I don’t have to worry about losing it. A thirteen inch brown trout rests in my hand as the boat swishes through the tall grass on the shore. My brother, Andy, stands there holding a beer. He snatches the tow rope tossed by my father. I hold up the fish with my thumb jammed in the gill cover.
Check it out!
He looks my way for a moment, to the fish, continues pulling the rope up the shore. I drop the fish unceremoniously onto the floor of the boat.
We stumble out of the boat and I drag it up the overgrown, grassy bank. Father blasts a snot rocket, drops his pants and starts pissing in the pond. My brother giggles. I jump back in the boat and scoop up the fish. It’s mouth gapes slowly and seems to be staring at me out of the corner of its eye. I walk up the bank and toss the trout in the thick, dewy grass on my way to the cabin.
Inside, I grab some dried, crusty bits of beef jerky. Nothing else to eat. They ate all the food we brought. Two more days to go and the only food left is beef jerky and beer.
Beef jerky and beer.
Beef jerky and beer.
Chewing on the salty jerky, I go out and walk up to the suffocating fish. We stare at each other for a moment. Frogs croak. Beer disappears down my brothers throat. My dad looks into the distance.
The world goes quiet.
I grab for the trout.
It jerks and slaps my hand. The sound echoes. Birds rush from the trees. Wind stops. Time freezes.
I pull my hand back but there is no pain.
My brother laughs. Drops the empty beer can.
The fish stares at me, mouthing silent words.
I reach down again, slowly, and pick it up. The smooth skin feels dry. I look it straight in the face.
My brother laughs, snaps open another beer.
I toss the fish into the pond.