by Alysia C. Anderson
My feet dangle off the dock as I watch small waves splashing drops of water. Today has been long and hot, but the heat don’t bother me none. I ain’t ready to go home just yet. I like sitting alone on the dock with my fishing rod.
Taking a deep breath, I lean back and relax. It’s always nice to get away from what drags you down. Everybody’s got their special spot. I guess it all depends on whether or not you like it quiet or loud. For me, it’s the dock.
Feeling my line tug, I sit back up and jerk my rod. I hooked one. I just know it. I stand up slowly reeling my line in, trying to keep myself from falling into the water. It’s a pretty tough fish. My prize flops around in the water in front of me. I don’t ever remember fighting so hard for one like this before. Grinding my teeth, I lift up a big redfish onto the dock.
The fish fights me, and I grab it and hold it down. My hands slide, but I manage to keep it pinned. I ain’t never caught one this big before. Its tail lifts up and down, and its mouth bobs slowly until it surrenders to me. With the battle won, I remove the hook from its mouth.
Taking my hands off the fish’s slimy body, I stare at it. No movements. No nothing. It’s dead. I pick it up carefully by the gills, knowing it might have a few more twitches left and put it in my bucket. Its tail hangs out, but it will do until I get home.
My bare feet walk along the dusty road back to my house. I take my time, not in any hurry to be there any time soon. My fish feels like it’s getting heavier every minute. This fish must be a record for me. I wonder if Grandpa ever caught one this big before. I wish I could show him, but I suppose he already saw from Heaven. I’m sure God would tell him if he missed it, too.
At home, I lean my rod against the shed and drag myself towards the house. I hear the screen door squeak and look up to see my grandma standing there in her apron with her hands on her hips.
“Where you been, boy?” Grandma demands me to answer as I walk up the steps of the porch.
“Out fishing,” I reply, and she lets me in. “I caught a big one. My biggest one yet,” I say, proud of my fish in the bucket.
“That’s no excuse,” she fusses and takes the bucket from my hands. “I’ve been worrying sick about you. I don’t need you running around everywheres like your momma done to me.”
“I was just at the dock,” I answer. I sit down at the table and hear her slam the bucket on the counter. “I was at Grandpa’s old fishing spot.”
Grandma pulls out my big catch and lays it across the counter. I know she heard me, but Grandma always has a way of avoiding talking about my grandpa. I don’t really understand why she refuses to talk about him. I know she’d feel a lot better if she’d just talk, but no sense in forcing her. It’s hard without him around. He was the man of the house. Now, it’s just me.
“This is a nice one,” Grandma says to me as she digs for a knife to clean it. “It’ll make a good supper.”
I nod watching as she sharpens the knife and scrapes the scales off. She works so fast, making my head spin. I forgot about all the times she’s done this before.
I set my chin down on the table and close my eyes. With one swoop, she slices the fish’s head off, causing me to jump. Then, she chops off the back fin.
“What you so jumpy for?” she asks me.
“Nothing.” The fish head stares at me.
“You dreaming again,” Grandma says as she scrapes the scales off. “You up there in your own little world.”
I don’t answer her. I can’t hide nothing from her even when I say nothing at all. She just has to look into my eyes and know I’m holding something back.
“Boy, what I tell you about that?” Grandma starts fussing at me. “You need to get your head out the clouds and start seeing what’s right there in front you.” She shakes her head and lowers the knife. “You just like your momma. Everywheres but here.”
I ain’t like my momma. I know how to stay around. I’m a man, or as much of one as I can be for now. I get up and walk over to the counter and poke the fish’s head that keeps staring at me. Grandma turns to me and gives me a stern look. I shrink back and walk to the table, wishing I was at the dock again.
“Go get yourself cleaned up while I’m getting supper ready,” Grandma says to me as I linger around the table.
I stand there for a few minutes not ready to move at all. Then, I hear Grandma sigh. It was long, loud and purposely drawn out to let me know that she meant now. I quickly move my feet and head outside to avoid getting her any angrier than she already was.
I pump water into a bucket and wash my hands with the cold water. I grab the soap and scrub my hands, watching its white bubbles turn black. I wash off the dirty suds and look at my hands. They always stay dirty even when clean, like I’m cursed or something. There’s still dirt under my nails, and my hands still smell like fish, but it never seems to bother me none.
I dry my hands off on my dirty blue jeans and walk back to the kitchen, seeing Grandma dipping strips of my fish into some flour. Fried fish is one of my favorite things to eat. I can hear my stomach growling already just waiting to get my hands on some.
“What you standing there for?” Grandma fusses at me as she lays a piece of fish in the grease. I hear it fizz and pop as it begins to cook. I can almost taste it. “Do you hear me boy?” she fusses, raising her voice.
“Yes, ma’am,” I reply, standing up straight.
Grandma stares at me, trying to read my thoughts. Then, she orders, “Set the table.”
I don’t argue with her and get my feet moving. I open the kitchen cabinets and pull out two plates. It’s been the two of us for the past year. It gets boring seeing the same person staring back at me every time I eat. Sometimes, I wish my momma would come back home and eat with us, but I know that’s just a dream.
I place the plates on the table and grab two forks. I lay one beside each plate and do the same when I get glasses to drink from. Then, I go sit down in my seat and rest my chin on the table. I know if I stay like this long enough, I will fall asleep.
A while later, I hear the grease quiet down, and I open my eyes. Grandma puts the fish on a plate, and I see the grease making a small puddle under the strips. As she lays a few pieces down in my plate, I look up to her. I see her smile just for a moment, and then she serves her own plate.
After blessings, dinner is quiet. We each got a way of keeping to ourselves when supper is involved. I ain’t sure if it’s just because we are hungry or there is just never anything to say. We just sit and eat until supper is done.
Later that night, I climb into my bed after cleaning up. I still smell like fish, but it doesn’t really matter. Grandma tucks me in and kisses my forehead. She doesn’t know it, but I can see into her eyes, too. She is proud of me. She walks over to my door and turns. I catch her smile again before she steps away.
About the Writer
Alysia C. Anderson is an English instructor at Southeastern Louisiana University, where she teaches freshman composition and American literature. Her short stories have been published in Tulane Review, Louisiana Review, The Red Clay Review, and Country Roads Magazine. She lives in Folsom, Louisiana with her husband, son, dog, and farm animals.
Photo is in the Public Domain.