| Rachael Swain |
I am fishing. Perched softly on the rock’s mossy hunch, hiding my shadow, quietly waiting. The phosphorescence of the late afternoon sun and low lying spring clouds turn the trees black, render everything around us in high contrast. I see the hooked meal worm lying lazily just below the surface of the green water on a stone right below me. Not a great cast, even by my standards which are admittedly low since this is the first time I’ve fished since I was five years old. I reel in the line, hold it taut with my finger against the pole, lock the reel, and cast out further to the curve in the shore you pointed out earlier. “They like it there,” you said. “See how the current moves quickly up until the bend? The fish like the bend because they can take a break. They don’t have to fight the water.”
I don’t know how I arrived here. To be fishing. To be a fish out of water. I understand now, the expression on the fishes’ face—the lack of knowable oxygen. The gills go wide and gaping—searching for the familiarity of water, not finding it, casting them wider, and still not finding it. I understand.
I was born here. Lived as a child in the rural areas of New Jersey, though my family didn’t stay long. And soon after that I became an urban dweller. The corn fields, the silos, the lonely billboards, the sagging houses with their weed choked doors and porches, the beaming yellow cash for gold signs, the windowless rusted wrecks littered on front lawns, soaped up store fronts, the camouflage, the hand painted signs that make up the world to which I returned feel thin—on the verge of disintegrating. The whole town being pulled back into the earth by the bony, greedy vines. Driving here alone, mid-day, sometimes my chest grows heavy at the dusty expanses. I pull into parking lots and take deep breaths. Yet, I am attracted to these old broken things at times. The way the afternoon light exposes the spreading cracks, the chipped paint on the hanging shutters, and the corkscrew of the dented metal grain houses. Their wherewithal. Their undeniable sincerity.
I’ve been here in this town for 6 months because I walked away from something else and didn’t know where else to go. Like a can some kid kicked down the street, I landed where I landed. Totally without purpose. I am here on this rock now because I am a good sport and also because I am looking for ways to feel a part of what you are a part of. I am trying to breathe the same way you do. I want to belong. (Finally) To a place. To you.
Looking back over my shoulder, I see you moving easily along the muddy bank, tucked just under the small bridge—all the movement second nature, no frown of concentration, no hesitations, no spoken reminders—no knots in the reel. “You’re giving it too much slack. Let it out and then reel it back in again slowly. You don’t want knots,” you said calmly. You — always so calm. Taking your cues from the rivers you fished in. Nothing seems to worry you. Sometimes so much so it worries me. Sunglasses tucked first around the neck, then moved up to your face as you peer into the water. Feet rocking lazily over the stones.
Casting out. Reeling in.
Your heavy, calloused, dirty hands. Your bulky muscle. Almost as if you could turn into the shore line and disappear. “I like the moss” I hear you say. I imagine you covered in it, knowing you are capable of being that quiet. Of being that still.
You are my ambassador here. This fishing hole, the one you fished as a kid. This town, the one you’ve spent your life in. In the handful of bars in town, in the grocery store, at the movie theater you share handshakes, smiles, small talk. At the sports shop where we bought the fishing rods, there is a picture of you on the back of the door with a fresh catch. You are younger in it. Smiling that same casual smile though. The man who fixed our reels has been here since you were five; drinking Coors-light and remarking on bait and tackle. Customers moved quietly in and out on the first day of fishing season, leaving cash on the counter, silently nodding to one another, tipping hats, feeling lures. When he asked for my social security number for my fishing license, my surprise brought out a grin and a chuckle. A sure first timer.
I turn back to the water and trees, trying to find the end of the line, now snagged somewhere in the depths. Pulling on the line yields no results. I resent you momentarily, even while I wish you were closer. I resent being here fishing, I resent not knowing how to fish, I resent not knowing the roads we took to get here, of the forty dollars I spent on this fishing rod, of the idea that I may be falling in love with you, I resent the authority you have over what you do, the assuredness you lend to everything, and in comparison the frustrated hesitations that seem to comprise my entire life. I resent that despite the alternate circumstances I am in, that I have been here before. Endlessly trying to be a part of something I am not.
What am I looking for? When will I find it? What does it take? Will it be with you?
You said about getting the line caught, “Sometimes you have to move around a little to find the snag, then move and it comes away easily.” I move and the line goes slack, I tug and the meal worm hops up from the water and I reel my line back in. I look back towards you under the bridge, knees tucked up, pole resting, face to the sky. I cast out again. I sit. Stare out beyond the trees to the white sky until my eyes go blank.
And in my grip the pole moves, and again until I know I have a bite. I stand and begin to reel the line in, calling over my shoulder to where you are, calling as calmly as I can that I’ve caught one. As you approach I keep the fish in the water flashing rainbow scales, eyeball up to me, hook through the gill, entreating it seems, “Let me go.” You appear, kneel down, grab the fish, and with your large flat thumb hook the fish through the gill and hold him up. Though I’m doubtful, you say he’s big enough to keep. And I have no other excuses except that this time I can’t do it. So we let him go. Some moments later you catch one yourself, and release him back with a push, under the bridge. I can see you do this for my sake.
We sit for a few more moments, casting our lines in silence to the places we think the fish are resting, before you suggest the sun is too low and the fishing is done for the day. As we travel back down the roads I won’t remember, past the buildings still hanging on, the last bit of light exposing the last bits of cracked foundations and earth, I like to imagine I will someday move with grace along the banks or streets of my choosing. That I’ll find my way to the calmer manor and casual smile that I seek in you. That I will hold the hand of someone who loves me. That as you suggest, sometimes all I have to do is move a little and it will all come away easily.