Monday, November 21, 2011

The Grandfather and a Fish

This is a story I wrote when I was in middle or high school, I'm not sure which.  It was inspired by my maternal grandfather whom I called Adad.  It was published in a magazine which I don't know whether or not still even exists.  Still, it was my first time being published and is one of my favorites.  I hope you enjoy.

The Grandfather and a Fish
By Brandon Charles West

“Keep the line taut,” the old man said to the little boy, “reel it in a little if you have to.”
The boat rose with a wave and the little boy lost his balance.  His grandfather caught him with one hand at the back of his overalls and stood the little boy back on his feet.  The grandfather smiled at the boy who was on the verge of panicked tears.  He fixed the line so that it was taut and chose to ignore the boy's reaction.
“Keep it just like this.  When the fish bites you’ll feel it,” the old man tousled the little boy’s hair.
The air was warm with the strength of the sun and just as the easterly breeze lifted the misty sea into the air it promptly dissipated so that there was little relief from the temperature.  The two in the boat did not notice the heat much.  They were concentrating on the task at hand; a little boy was to catch his first fish today. 

They had been at it for a little over two hours without a bite and while the little boy remained patient and trusting, the grandfather was beginning to worry that he had unluckily chosen a poor day.  He had waited a long time for a day when it would be warm, with calm water and clear skies, slightly coerced of course by the naggings of an overprotective wife and daughter-in-law. He had not taken into account that the fish would simply refuse to participate. 
“Hold on tight.  I’ll be right back,” the grandfather said, making certain that the boy had a good hold of the fishing rod.  He walked to the other side of the boat and lifted the cooler with strong sun stained arms.  He carried the heavy case with little effort back to the fixed captain’s chair and took his seat beside his grandson.
The grandfather opened the cooler and removed three worms, which he inspected with a slight glance and then cut on top of the cooler’s surface.  He then instructed the little boy to reel in the line, which was removed from the water without any bait on its hook.  “That might be our problem, John.  That means that they’re biting but are smart enough not to get caught.”  The grandfather began to hook a new worm.
“When do you go back to school?” the grandfather asked, inching the worm carefully onto the two pronged hook.  “Should be soon, now?  Shouldn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know.  Well I guess that wouldn’t be something I’d be too concerned with either if I were you.  Do you like school?”

“No,” the little boy said peculiarly as the grandfather handed him back the rod.
No.  What do you mean no.”
“Well, it is just ____ it’s so boring.”  The grandfather allowed himself a deep laugh. 
“Is that all?”  The grandfather pointed toward the sea and motioned with his hand.  The little boy promptly cast the line out in that direction.  “You had me worried for a second.”
“That is not such a little thing grandpa.  I got a bad grade on my report card last year because I just couldn’t stand to be in math class.”
“Math is a little boring.  I’ll give you that.”
“Grandpa.  Some of the kids do not even know their mul-ti-pli-ca-tion tables.” 
“That’s all right.  Some people learn a little slower than others do.  That’s all.”

“And every year we get those readers.  They all have names like Trail Blazers or Footprints.  We have to read the stories out loud during reading and they are so childish.  Why can’t we read something real?  A real book.”  The grandfather looked at the boy with a mixture of wonder and admiration.
“What would you like to read?”
“I don’t know.  Something like Dad used to read to me when I was little.”  The grandfather looked into the young boy’s small innocent eyes and could not help but smile.  He was still so small and in appearance seemed his correct age.  It was only in his mind that he had grown so quickly.
“What did he read to you?”
“Never mind,” the young boy said turning his attention back to his rod.
“Did your daddy ever take you fishing?”
“Once he did.  When we all went to the beach in Carolina.  While Aunty Virginia and Mama were fixing a picnic, Dad took me and Matt out on the boat to fish.  They weren’t biting then either.”
“Sometimes they don’t.  I know I’ve been out here many a time and not gotten one bite.”
“Dad told me that you used to take him fishing when he was little.”
“Oh, we went fishing all the time.  Your daddy was quite the fisherman.”
“Do you think that he would have caught one by now?”

“I don’t know to tell you truth.  They’re being very stubborn down there.”  The grandfather slowly digressed into a reflective state and the little boy watched him in silence. 
Occasionally during this period, the grandfather caught the little boy peering over the side of the boat.  The little boy would edge over to the side, timidly venturing from his chair and with his hands locked tightly to the rim of the boat, he would stare suspiciously into the dark green water.  After watching the boy do this for the fourth time the grandfather spoke:  “Whatcha looking at?”
The little boy scurried back to his seat with a start.  “Nothing.”  The grandfather simply nodded and the boy sat in his seat so that the water was as far away as possible.
“Your mama tells me that you might be going to a special school this year.  Did you know that?”
“Yes,” the boy said reeling in his line a little.
“That should make school less boring for you.  Don’t you think?”
“I guess it will.  I don’t want to go.”           
“Now why do you say that?”
“Because I’ll have to ride a bus to school.”

“Lots of kids ride busses.”
“But I never have.  I do not like busses.”
“How do you know if you’ve never been on one?”
“I just know I don’t.”
The grandfather decided to let it go.  “How’s the line doin’?”
“I don’t think that anything is going to bite today grandpa.”
“Well, we’ll see.  You never really know.”
The sun was now high in the cloudless azure sky.  It was slowly approaching noon and both fishermen were growing hungry.  The Grandfather looked at his watch, an old golden time-piece that had barely left his wrist during his 69 years, and then told the young boy to start to get the food out of the cooler.  The Grandfather secured the pole in one of two drilled slots so that it was fixed firmly to the boat with the line still lingering beneath the sea.  The young boy took out the food, an assortment of turkey sandwiches and chips, and laid it all out carefully on a towel.  The two ate in relative silence, occasionally taking peeks at the still line.  The little boy thought he saw the line pull, but then dismissed the thought when it did not move again.  He looked up at his grandfather, who was studying the sky.

“I can’t remember my Dad.”  The Grandfather brought his eyes down to the little boy quickly, his brow creased with concern.  Tears were in the little boy’s eyes.  “The story about him taking me fishing.  I don’t remember it.  Mama told me about it.  And the books he read to me.  I can’t remember him reading them to me.”  The Grandfather picked up the little boy and held him in his arms.
“It’s all right.” He whispered to the boy as he held him close to his chest.  “You listen to me okay?  Think really hard for me.”  The little boy closed his eyes tightly.  “Now I want you to think about your Daddy and tell me what you see.”
“I don’t see anything,” the little boy said, beginning to cry harder.
“Now calm down.  It’s all right.  Try again.”  The little boy closed his eyes and tried.  “What do you see?”
“I see a football and a field.”
“Good.  Are you throwing the football?”
“No.  I am catching it.”
“Who’s throwing it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tell what he looks like.”

“I can’t see him.”
“Yes, you can.  Just try harder.  Is he tall?”
“Yes.  And he has brown hair.  He is wearing a funny shirt and he is throwing me the ball.”
“That’s your Daddy, John.”
The little boy stopped crying and began to smile.  “It is my Dad.”
“And you know what?”
The little boy still had his eyes shut tight.  “What?”
“Nobody was there to tell you a story about that, was there?  So that is a memory.”  The little boy’s smile grew. 
After a long time he opened his eyes and jumped out of his grandfather’s arms.  He went back to his sandwich as if nothing had happened and they returned the vigil over the poles.  “Do you think they will ever bite, Grandpa?”
“I don’t—“ as if on cue the little boy’s line went taut and the pole bent toward the water.  The little boy was the first to the rod, followed only by an instant by his grandfather.  “Hold on to it tightly, now.  Reel it in slow.”  The Grandfather held the fishing rod from behind to help keep it steady.

Slowly and not without great effort the little boy reeled in the fish.   When it broke the surface, the grandfather, keeping hold of the rod with one hand, grabbed the net and lifted the fish out of the water.  The little boy stared in amazement as the Grandfather took the fish out of the net and unhooked its mouth.  The fish was extremely large and had a metallic color to its skin that reflected the brightness of the sun.  The grandfather held the fish out to the little boy and began to point out the various parts, describing briefly what they did; how the gills helped it breathe, how the fins helped it to swim.  As he turned the fish over, he began to see signs of its age; scars from other hooks, marks from fights with predators.  The fish carried with it an aura of strength and on its body were etched the signs.  The grandfather looked at the boy who was studying the fish with a distraught look of compassion.
“Are you ready?”
“For what?” the little boy said, looking up at his grandfather with inquisitive excitement.
“Well.  First you have to hold the fish.”  The old man handed the fish over to the boy who immediately began to struggle with its weight.  “And then throw him in the water as far as you can.”  The little boy looked confused.  “Go on.  Ready?  One.  Two.  Three.”  The fish sprawled out into the air, and with a great splash, flopped into the sea.  It immediately went deep into the colder water below.
“Why did we do that Grandpa?”
‘Sometimes all you need is a look.  Sometimes that’s enough.  That big old fish deserved to be free.  I think he got himself caught so that he could take a look at us.  See what in the world we were doin’ up here.”
“So we let him go.”
“Well, he’d gotten his look, we got ours and you caught your first fish.”  The little boy smiled and the grandfather tousled his hair.  Let’s head on in.”
“All right,” the little boy said. 
He leaned over the side of the boat, watching the water the whole way home wondering whether just perhaps, underneath the water, a great old fish was looking up.

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