Posts Tagged ‘fishing’

Chapter 5 Fishing


The fishing reel makes its own particular sounds as it releases and stops the line.

“Now you wait,” says my mother. She is holding Rufus on her hip. My father is painting Dulcibella and we are all down at the dock. The fishing rod came when Jimmy Grant, Daddy’s friend from Newsweek, came to visit. He bought the clicky rod in the grocery story, and even though my father hates the fishermen who park themselves in our harbor, staring at us as they troll for muskie, he couldn’t say no to Jimmy Grant, so we got the fishing rod. It was fun when Jimmy Grant came to visit, because they all told fantastical stories about living in New York City, where I was born. My favorite was about how my father jumped over our black bureau—it’s four and a half feet tall—then had my mother, hugely pregnant with me, lay down on top of it to make it a higher jump for him. Jimmy Grant laughed and laughed telling how Daddy jumped over Mommy and me.

“Mommy, do you know how to fish?”

“Oh, yes I used to fish a lot.”

“Where did you do that?”

“Back in Oklahoma,” she tells me. My experience of Oklahoma is home movies of my father and grandfather chasing a chicken around a dusty yard with pistols. My mother’s brother sends us letters from Vietnam. The only object we have from Hugo, Oklahoma is a souvenir pitcher we use for lemonade with a picture of a sorrowful Indian on an exhausted horse. Both their heads are bowed. They are spent, broken, depressed, the way my mother is sometimes. Just below the Indian is spelled the explanation:  Hugo, Oklahoma.

She concentrates on putting a little piece of bacon on the end of the hook. She gets it, and shows me.

“Like this,” she says, then drops the hook, the line and the sinker into the water. I patiently stare at the red and white bob floating on the water. After an hour, it’s just Daddy and me down here now. Then, there is a tug on the line. I start clicking and bring in the hook and whatever is on it. I reel it close enough for me to see I have caught a little wriggling fish.

“Daddy, Daddy!” I yell, and his head pops up from the boat. “I just caught a fish!”  The shiny fish drips as it swings over the water. Now I can see that it’s beautiful, brown and speckled. It is six inches long. I’ve never seen a live fish so close up. Daddy jumps onto the dock and kneels next to me.

“Let’s throw it back,” he says softly.

“No, no Daddy, I want to do what people do with fishes.”

“Well, people throw fishes back.”

“Can we take it off the hook?” I ask. Daddy looks hopelessly at the fish. I can see he doesn’t want to touch it or have anything to do with it. He is a sailor not a fisherman.

“Your mother is better at this than I am. Why don’t you get her?”

I put the rod down with the fish still on it, letting it swim in the river, while I run up the path to get her.

“Mommy, Mommy!  I caught a fish!” I’m halfway up the path already. “Mommy, the bacon worked!”

“Get a bucket,” mom says. She grabs Rufus, and I carry a silver galvanized bucket, and we run down to the dock. Mommy expertly takes the hook from the fish’s lip, and we put the fish into the bucket with water. It’s so heavy now that Mom and I carry the bucket up together to put up on the back porch.

I watch the fish as it swims around and around in circles in the bucket. She goes back inside to cook dinner and sits Rufus up in his high chair. Daddy comes up with the fishing pole.

“You left this at the dock.”

“Daddy, I want to eat the fish.” His jaw tightens.

“If you want to eat it, that means you have to kill it,” he says. He is against killing things. “I want you to put the fish back into the river.”

“Well, I don’t want to. I want to eat him,” I say. “Just like you and grandpa ate that chicken.” He stares at me for a second then moves quickly past me, through the back door into the house. In one second, I hear his heavy footfalls in his study above the porch. I kneel down and stare at the shiny brown fish, circling around and around. I love this fish so much I want to eat it.

I hear my father coming back down his stairs and through the kitchen, my mother sees him and calls out to him, “Tim, Tim—what are you doing?”

When he comes out of the screen door onto the darkening, cluttered back porch he has a shotgun in his right hand. He steps to the bucket, aims in, and starts to shoot.


I am two feet from the bucket.


And it’s the loudest thing I’ve ever heard.


All he needs to do is point the gun up two feet and he’d be aiming at me.


Now the bucket is red, and red water runs everywhere on our back porch. I look down once, and when I see no fish, nothing but red, I cannot look down again. I look across the porch at the hill behind the house. I see rocks and grass and I am trying to be as far away as I can get.

“There,” he says, “you happy?”And he throws open the back door and stomps past me. I hear him going back upstairs, and then I feel liquid through the holes in my sneakers, I look down again, and see the holes he shot into the galvanized bucket.

I look up from the holes into the blank face of my mother through the screen door. I feel hot tears on my face. I didn’t mean to be a murderer. I didn’t want to make my dad a murderer.

“Mommy, why did he do that?”

“Daddy wanted to show you how precious life is, sweetie. Come in here, honey.” She sits me down in a chair, wipes my face and turns on the radio. She grabs a mop and goes out the back door with it.

I want the radio to play my favorite song, A Boy Named Sue, right now. I decide that, just like in the song, all the things my dad does, all the things I don’t understand, are part of an orchestrated plan to improve me in some way. I know my father loves me and I know, one day, it will all make sense. But I resolve never to fish again.

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03 2010

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