Living in a Shadow

There was a marsh that bounded part of the woods behind my house, on the edge of which, at high tide, Dad and I used to stand and fish for perch and minnows. Birds chirped in the trees and they’d clam up when the eagles came around. In some places, it was hard to walk; the forest was so thick and the swamp so full of trees that there was no way to tell where one stopped and the other ended. Burly hunters stomped through the woods, and they sometimes found themselves knee-deep in slick mud, as black as oil. That wasn’t us, we knew our way around. By trial and adaptation to the rhythm of the tides, it was like instinct for Dad and I. I knew every tree and every boulder; where the eagle’s nest was and the cave that sunk into the ground and filled up with water at high tide. I felt safe in the swamp with Dad by my side.  

“You got the bait, boy?” Dad asked. I nodded my head and held out a tin can swimming with worms.

You might like to know something of his character. He was well-built, of middle stature, and quite ingenious. He could draw well, was a skilled musician, and he had a mechanical intuition too. But, his greatest attributes laid in his perfect understanding and solid judgment. He ran for town sheriff a number of times, winning twice. I remember frequent visits to our house, by the mayor and other leaders, who consulted him for his opinion in the affairs of the town long after his service with the police department had ended.

We walked over the path of wood beams he’d made by hand to get across the marsh as the tide rose. The tide turned the ground around us into mush. Dad noticed some eddies and splashes a little ways out and said Son, I think there’s a big one out ‘ere today! And he smiled at me.

When we got to the pier he took to arranging the fishing line and we sat with our feet dangling over the water. There was an enormous splash some distance out. Wow! Dad said, and I looked up to him in awe, as if he hadn’t seen what I’d just seen. A frog ribbited in the swamp somewhere, and then we heard a plunk and it went quiet. Little ripples washed towards us, chopped up by the waterlilies and the cattails.

I lurched forward and I realized something bit down on my line. “You got one!” he said, and he helped me reel it in with real difficulty. We spun and spun the rod as hard as we could. The hook churned up the water around itself, the fish flapped about and swayed among the reeds. We thought it might be a catfish. I imagined myself posing with it for a picture, telling Ma, look at what I did!

I caught a water droplet with my eye. We pulled and pulled and pulled and soon it got real easy to reel in the line. I thought it was my dad’s strength. But soon we got it up above the surface, and the fish was gone. Nothing but a sliver of lip remained on the silver hook, and a cloud of blood muddied the water.

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