I could see the honesty in his eyes. There was no pretense, no suggestion of thirteen-year-old postering. He was thoughtful, not sad. He wiped his forehead, paused for a moment, then raise his eyes and said, “I want to catch a fish.”
“But you’ve caught fish.”
“I’m not talking about grandad’s pond. Not with his cane pole. A real fish, with my rod.”
There was a slight tremor of pain in him, which strum the strings of memory. I remember the hours in the boat, the interminable slow passage of time. The bayou creeping around me. I had no ability to realize the beauty of the place. I could only see the boat, the cooler with sandwiches, the gas tanks, and the extra rods, and the tackle box. There were no fish. Rarely were there fish when I went.
I remember a movie. Summer Rental. John Candy. Faced with failure, he tells his daughter, “You can’t win ‘em all.”
She says, “But one would be nice, wouldn’t it?”
One would be nice. One fish, with his rod, in the ocean.
I sat there, numbed to the moment. I realized that he had a passion that I did not share. He spoke with intention and truth. It was admirable. I remember Steinbeck writing about when a “kind of glory lights up a man.” There was a spark of glory in his eyes at that moment. It was the beginning of himself, the beginning of becoming. His journey away from me, begun at his first moments, was a step further, and I admired it and loved it and feared it.
The next day: the beach. A three hook rig, with live shrimp. We waded out past the surf and sand bar, where he cast a beautiful arc into the Gulf wind. We made our way back to shore, where he placed the rod in the PVC pipe shoved into the wet sand. We sat in the sun, watching the small rod, already overpowered by the large weight, bend towards the green-blue water. His brown back glowed in the sun, his dark youthful curls gleaming with seawater.
I noticed the bend in the rod had increased.
“I think you have something.”
He sprung up, ran to the pole. It felt heavy, he said. He began to reel in, and as the surf carried the rig it lightened to where he began to doubt.
“Naw, I don’t think it’s anything.”
But it was something. It was two somethings. Two grey white creatures flopping in the shallow, foamy surf. He pulled the fish up onto the beach, into the white sunlight. Never mind that they were small gulf catfish. Not good eating, really. Never mind that. He had caught fish.
One would be nice. Two was nicer.