portion of the artwork for Dan Townsend's fiction

Fishing with Mom
Dan Townsend

I had taken all of the worms out of the worm cup and spread them on the sidewalk going around the lake. I was in search of one that was calm enough to put on my hook.

I held up the winner.

“I’m not touching it,” Mom said.

I felt like I could do this. I had on my purple shorts. When I wore my purple shorts, amazing things happened.

I cupped my hand and let the worm play in it. Then I said, “It’s slimy.”

Mom said, “Now put it on your hook.” We had been living in Texas two and a half weeks, and we were getting out of the house for a change. Our house was an apartment, but my mom still slipped and called it a house. I would say, Mom, you mean apartment—we’re getting out of the apartment. She would say, Oh yeah, you’re right.

The worm was taking it one day at a time in my cupped hand, but when I pinched him to go on the hook, he started having a meltdown.

I said, “It’s slithery!”

A man walking by stopped and said, “Hold on a sec, buddy.”

When your dad is dead, men call you buddy.

The man held out his hand and I dumped the worm into it. The man was large and dirty. He smelled like kids who had come in from playing outside.

He put the hook through my worm’s shoulder. He looped the worm around like he was tying his shoelace. He put the hook through the worm again, and he dropped the line.

“There you have it,” he said and smiled. His teeth were yellow and gunky from not brushing. He was gross.

My mom said, “Oh thank you,” but the way she said it, I could tell she didn’t want to say anything.

* * *

Let me tell you about worms. They are amazing. They have no eyes or mouth.

Hey snakes, beat that: no eyes or mouth.

The next thing I had a problem with was casting.

Mom said, “Remember how Daddy showed you.”

I had stopped calling my dad Daddy in kindergarten. It was babyish. Everyone in fourth grade would be calling their dads Dad. We took turns trying to cast until we finally got the bobber out a little ways. Mom did casting like a girl, with her butt sticking out and her hair getting all in her face. She stopped to fix her hair after each cast. When I did casting, I did it like her, and it wasn’t right. I couldn’t tell how, but I knew it wasn’t right.

My worm got pretty dirty. He looked tired and wasn’t wiggling like he used to. I was embarrassed, and he was the only one watching, that poor guy the worm.

* * *

Then I caught a fish. The line tugged and I watched my bobber have a party in the water. I reeled in the fish—which was fun and easy, reeling.

I shouted for my mom to look, “Look! Look!”

The fish flapped its tail. Its mouth had the hook in it. It kept saying Oh-No Oh-No.

I held the line and looked from the fish to my mom.

She said, “I’m not touching it!”

I said, “It’s a fish!”

I set the fish down on the sidewalk and held it flat with my hand. The spines of his fins went into my hand-skin. His scales came off in my fingernails. I tried to work the hook loose, but it was stuck.

My mom said, “Do you have it?”

I didn’t answer because I could feel the fish giving up. I could feel it dying, in my hand, on the sidewalk, and that was when a voice said, “Let me see there.”

It was an old man wearing a headband. Mom would tell me later that he was a Jogger. His shorts showed a lot of his legs. Joggers did running, for exercise.

I slid back, handing over the fish-unhooking responsibilities to the old man. He was gentle and slow. He crouched down and held the fish like it was a taco. With his other hand, he pinched the top of the hook. He pushed it in a little and worked the hook out of there. He threw the fish in the water and it lay there for a second. Oh-No Oh-No. Then it flapped its tail and swam away wondering about life.

Mom thanked him, “Oh thank you,” but this time when she said it, she was standing up and looking at him.

He said, “I’m glad I could help.”

My mom said, “We’re new here.” I hoped she would say something about my dad being dead and me not knowing how to get the hook out because he didn’t show me that—my dad always took the hooks out, not me—but she didn’t say anything about that.

The old man said he liked my purple shorts. I looked at the worms on the concrete. In all the commotion, we had stepped on some.

My mom said, “He’s shy,” but that wasn’t true.

* * *

The week after that, I practiced casting in the parking lot of our apartments.

Luckily, I had found a headband.

Before adults got home from work, I would practice casting without interference. After a couple days, I was really good, and I was proud of that. Other kids came outside, and I told them to watch.

“Check this out,” I said, and then I did a cast.

A girl said, “What’s wrong with you?”

It was two boys and a girl. The biggest boy had a basketball.

I said, “Nothing. Can you cast?”

The boy with the basketball bounced the basketball.

The girl said, “We’re going to play basketball.”

“Have fun,” I said as I reeled in my cracked-up bobber. I already knew how to play basketball.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 38 | Fall 2012