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On the Water

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Clearing Water Part II

I had been enjoying the banter of the two boat fishers and was happy to have them return along the path that had first allowed me into their lives. I thought how courteous of them to add to my day in this manner. It seemed as if they knew I was there savoring their thoughts because they held off from speaking until the boat lined out in front of me to troll back over the same submerged path. “Seems remote to me,” the elder picked up his mug of mood. “Everything, I mean.” He sipped, “Everything’s so remote and far off.” He sipped again and sniffed, “Like that shoreline way over there.” He pointed with his cup to the most distant shore.

The younger man followed his friend’s hand across the water. Glazed in the sun-drenched mist, that far off shore was a mystical haunt, unreachable, as in storybooks. Then he looked back at his sour friend, pondering. Suddenly, in a stroke of insight, he exclaimed, “I’ve got it! You’re bored!”

“I’m not bored!” spittle flew from his denying mouth. “Where do you get that stuff? What do you know anyway? You’re too young to know anything at all, filled with pride, pockets full of money. What do you know?”

“Ah…Ah, hah! I’m on to ya. Your fish are too small and too few these days. You’re getting’ bored with all this.”

“About as bored as I am sick of you. What do you know, anyway? You’ve never had a bad day?”

“Then you’re constipated.” The young man picked up his beer can again to smother his laughter.

“Well, that could be. A man of your tender age certainly has no idea.”

I had the feeling Dickson actually smiled at his last comment; but with the distance, I couldn’t tell. I did though, enjoying the chatter as each man revealed his outlook on life. They were certainly a blend of me, I thought, a dichotomous duet of my own moods. How timely they should play out this satire on my behalf, as if I’d paid for the orchestration.

The younger man was nearer the shore during this part of their discourse and had his back to me when his line broke suddenly free of its tie-down. The rod tip responded to a new and living weight that caused it to gyrate and jerk with heavy passion as the instinct of some great fish brought attention to all three men.

Dickson jumped at once to his own rod and yanked the line free to reel it out of the way, so his young friend could fight a clean fight. Lure in, he cut the motor and activated the electric downriggers to return their three-pound balls to the surface.

“Oooee!” said the younger. “Strong fish! Look at that.” The line cut steadily through the sheen. I could see droplets sparkling from it as the fish torpedoed through the water below. “Look at him go!”

The fish bore right of aft moving away from the boat, its unyielding strength reflected in the flex of the young man’s arms as he leaned against it, allowing the run, then pulling, holding and cranking; another run, pulling, holding and cranking. The drag on the reel was set perfectly, allowing the fish its head when the fish had favor but causing it to tire soon enough. The young man cranked constantly even as line went out so that as the fish wearied, it would glide back and upward toward the men in the boat.

Having taken up the net, Dickson stood beside his young friend and pointed down when he caught the first glimpse of heavy fish magnified in deep water. “Hah! There! Easy now. Don’t lose him. It’s a good one!”

“Yeah!”

Dickson then held the net straight out in front of his friend and feigned a sudden realization, “This is too small, Jack!”

 “Oh…you’d better net him, old boy. Or I’ll throw you in!”

 “Hah! It’s just a minnow.”

At that, as if on cue, the fish turned upward suddenly toward the sky and propelled itself clear of the surface into the air, nose high, full-bodied into the sunlight and held there in slow motion for a long moment while its great tail rolled up over that massive head throwing water. Then in position, it slipped back out of sight, the whole fish, diving into eternal memory head first, with the lure protruding from its jaw, victim to the piscivorous instinct and leaving us spell bound and swallowing our spit.

 “Yeah,” said the younger, “a minnow—biggest minnow I ever saw!” as if he had to say anything at all.

After that one spectacular jump, the fish went deep and fought with terrible strength, so that I’m sure we all thought it might break off. But it didn’t. It tired, finally, tired and turned to come in willingly, on its side, massive and breathtaking. Dickson scooped the net down and brought it up underneath and then realized it was too heavy for him.     Quickly he slid his hands down the long-handled shaft, one at a time, and bent over almost to the water. He lifted, groaning in awe of the weight, lifted until the heavy fish cleared the water. And he held it there for a timeless, precarious moment of doubt, his body teetering, leaving us to wonder…and then, grunting resolve, he refused...to let it go. With a singular mighty last effort, he brought it over the rail to the floor of the boat.

“Hah! There you are boy!” Proudly, breathing hard, “Caught yourself a nice one, eh?”

“Yeah. Nice fish. Thanks, bud. Good job!”

Jubilation. Conquering victory. In the way of all fishermen when fish like that are taken, the sullen gives way to excitement. The gloom of opinion subsides with the chiding. Camaraderie pervades. They shook hands and slapped each other’s arms, and then Jack kneeled to remove his lure.

Dickson took up a cabin stick and clubbed the fish to kill it. “Got to be a thirty-pounder,” he said, when the deed was done.

“I’d bet on that, Dickson. Twenty-five at least! Thanks for the good help.”

“Let’s get another!” he said eagerly, rubbing his hands with anticipation.

“I’ll have a beer, thank you!”

Fish in the hold, Jack started the motor and realigned the boat to its direction. Dickson let his lure trail to a desired distance then attached his line to the outside downrigger once again. “How deep were you?”

“No more than fifty feet, I’m sure,” Jack replied, moving to his own downrigger.

They were quiet on the boat after that until they turned off the point of the peninsula to come back over the same line. I wondered if they knew what a great part I played in their catch. At that point, Jack, who was now once again facing me, raised his hand in the air to wave. I returned the gesture, appreciating the recognition. Did he know I was privy to it all, to the whole conversation and the change in mood, to the drawing out of Dickson from constipated gloom into happy participation? How divine to have been a part of it.

But it was the young man who caught the wisdom that day. He said to his old friend, as they both sat waiting for the next strike, “That’s when you catch the big one, Dickson…when you get tired of the little ones.”

His words flew across the water like a duck, low and to the point and struck me in the heart. I understood. I nodded and stood up on the beach. What was true for Dickson was true for me as well and my older friend turned about just then, looked across the water straight at me as if he heard my conclusion and yelled, “Hey. What do you say there? You think he’s right about that?”

“Yes.” I returned and nodding, said, “He’s right.”

“Then we go for bigger fish!” He bobbed his head once to affirm his resolve.

I held out my hand and marked the air with a thumb’s up.

Dickson turned back to his companion and sat down.

Just then, precisely at that moment, Dickson’s rod dipped sharply and jerked as his line moved away from the back of their craft, cutting water like a knife. Never did I see such a happy man jump with so much glee.

READ PART III

 

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Dwayne Parsons Dwayne Parsons

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