A boy remembers the day his father took him fishing.
By Eva Vigh
It was a beautiful day. The lake gleamed gold and sapphire beneath the July sun. The boy laughed, and his pearls caught the sunlight.
Years later, when he was alone with her and she was crying and he was angry because he could not understand why she was crying, he would remember this day—the day his father took him fishing.
He would remember because there was something dirty and painful about it, a strange aching sadness that would resurface again and again, long after he left the dreamy world of childhood. It would plague him all the way to his pubescent five o’clock shadow, the stolen stash of magazines, the cigarettes that tainted his breath and coated his lungs with a thin film of dust.
That night as she lay crumpled on his bed and cried, and held on to a sorrow so deep she could never quite form it into words, he would look at her, and he would remember. He would remember the blueness of the sky, the heat of the sun, his boyish face reflected in the crystal surface of the lake. He would remember the clarity of his mind as father and son walked towards the water. The childish joy at the thought of fishing. The can of worms. The silhouette of the pole against the backdrop of blue. The writhing fish. The death.
His father showed him how to bait the line. The boy held the pink, wriggling worm between his fingers and swiftly pierced it with the hook. He cast his line, not in a perfect arc like his father, but a sloppy throw that broke the lake surface.
For a long time he caught nothing. He cradled the pole between his legs and thought of the fish, swimming in the azure shadows, a gnawing hunger growing in their hearts. Perhaps they had seen the now swollen, flaccid worm and been drawn towards it with an inexplicable yet primal desire. They must have seen the flash of silver.
And then all at once there was a splash and a tug near his navel and Oh boy oh boy a FISH! and his father was jumping and yelling in his ear and all he could do was hold on to the jerking pole and reel as fast and as hard as he could and somewhere deep below the sunlit surface a fish strained and thrashed in a silent cry that was swallowed in darkness.
He managed to reel it in, and there it was—a writhing mass of scales that caught the skidding sunlight. A thin trickle of blood flowed from its gills. He grasped the slick flesh in his hands and a shudder ran through his body.
His father was beaming. “What a catch,” he said. He took out his pocket knife. “What a catch,” he said again.
The fish must have known its fate, for all at once it grew still in the boy’s hands. Only its heart beat like a caged bird, as though it could somehow squeeze in all the life it would lose in these final moments. Its glossy eyes caught his, and he felt a burning sense of shame.
He turned away when his father drew the knife and penetrated the soft belly, gliding the blade effortlessly down the middle, widening the hole, the two flaps of flesh flopping uselessly, but he couldn’t help but watch the degutting. There was something frighteningly glorious in watching the hand grope the pink bloody intestines. The pungent smell of blood and salt and sweat rose in the air. He was drawn toward the fish and its mysterious pink flesh that somehow both repelled and intrigued him.
There was an inexplicable mystery to the fish, a life force he could not understand, that prompted him to ask for the knife. He felt a little angry at the fish because it simply laid there and stared at him with an empty sadness, and angry at himself because he did not know why he asked for the knife. He had only wanted to go fishing.
And so he stabbed, again and again, at the bloody flesh, as though in its mottled carcass he might find an answer to his prepubescent yearnings, an inner light to the turbulent darkness of his heart.