Hook, Line, and Sinker


By Henry Gee (He/Him)

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By Henry Gee

It's hard to know ahead of time how certain days are going to go – especially if you’re woken in the early hours of the morning by the slopping baritone of your friend throwing up last night’s revelries.

It’s the summer, and my parents had decided that I’m now old enough to make my own decisions. What this meant in practice was that they had started to wonder out-loud why my friends seemed to be busy all the time. “They’re not.” Well then, why wasn’t I seeing more of them? Surely we’d made some plans for a lads holiday, or whatever it was boys did for fun nowadays. “Well, maybe I could message…” This was perfect because they were going away in two weeks and I was now old enough not to go with them.

So, as my friend lay in bed, staining his sheets with sweat, thinking of nothing but the moment-to-moment pain of his stomach. His younger brother and I were driven down to the nearby fishing and beauty spot by his mum, and the unexpectedly warm weather. His brother had been given a new rod for his birthday three years ago after begging and begging his parents for one. This was after weeks of obsessive consumption of any piece of media even remotely related to fishing. It was expensive, but it was an investment, and as long as he used it as often as he said he would, they would be more than happy to pay a little more for it. He'd been maybe twice since.

I had never been fishing before, but sort of always assumed I would be good at it. Any sport that relies on an expert ability to sit still and think of nothing, was one I knew I was sure to be naturally gifted at.

The artificial lake was mostly empty when we arrived. His brother explained how it was unlikely we would catch anything. Because of the unexpectedly warm weather, the surface of the water would be hotter than usual, so the fish would be swimming along the bottom. “Isn’t that what weights are for?” I knew a little about fishing, the way Plato’s cave dwellers knew a little about the world. His were not heavy enough apparently. But we could still enjoy the sun and the beers with or without the thing that we had come here to do. It was better than nothing.

He took his time picking the right spot. Not too close to any trees; any falling debris would likely scatter the fish underneath. Not too deep; our lines would never reach them. Not too close to other people; we wouldn’t want to disturb anyone else. He seemed to take pride in a decision that he knew would not matter. But this was what he had done every other time he had fished. It was what all those videos and books had told him was important if one wanted to maximise their chances of success. We cast, knowing that we were too shallow, knowing that we would not catch anything, yet hoping that we still might. Fish swimming deep below, we fish into the black unknown, the object and means of capture similarly expressed. Can you say that you have performed something if you knew you had no hope of performing the key central act? Love without a kiss, smoke without a fire, Peter without Paul. He didn’t seem interested when I brought it up.

Four hours we sat there, talking, drinking, and re-casting. Although the gaps between casts become longer and longer until we forget about them altogether. He fell asleep.

I close my eyes, but only to rest them. Now this is something I could get used to. The water lapping against the curated banks, the birdsong in the trees, the sounds of things, wherever, being made nicely. This is nice. I don’t… Stepping outside whatever and doing whatever and whatever and whatever. And… I don’t know, man, maybe dozing for a minute or two would do me some good.

But there is commotion to the left. There is movement to the left. Rod bending to the left. Splash. Thrash. Dash. Someone has a fish on a line. Someone has a fish on a line. Run, run, run. Bait on hook, cast into depths, a bite, a bend, a reel, and a fish spluttering and flopping like a car refusing to turn over and start. Out of its element. Mouth engaged in the empty act of gulping empty air into empty lungs. Eyes bulging. Body expanding and contracting. A heart outside the body. “Can you see what it is?” His hat falls off his head. “Come on, come on!” His tiny chair has fallen over. “Just a little…” His shorts have fallen down slightly, and I can see the top of his crack. “Grab the net, grab the net.”

He marvels, panting, and places the fish into the waiting weighing canvas. He seems in no hurry as the fish begins to slow down. Gulp. Eleven pounds. Gulp. He pulls out a notebook. Gulp. Adding it to his enumerated and dated list. Gulp. “You boys want to quickly touch it?” Gulp… I shake my head, refusing to acknowledge the reality of what we have been trying to achieve this whole time. “Come on, it won’t bite.” I shake my head. “Here you go, it’s just a little wet.” The fish is coming towards me. The fish is coming towards me. The fish is. Gulp. The fish is wet, and dying, and in my hands, and I am looking everywhere but at it. I’m looking into the man’s eyes. “Looking good. I can take a picture if you’d like.” I shake my head. He shrugs, takes back the fish, and puts it into the water. Gills flare, shot of electric, skin self-stitching, heart beating with fresh blood, and the fish swims back into the black. I blink and breathe for what feels like the first time. “Man, never gets old. I love it. No matter how many times I cast, they keep swimming up and biting. Can’t help themselves.” Gulp. I make a mental note never to go fishing again.

We’re picked up not long after. With black rings around his eyes, and spittle in the corner of his mouth, my friend asked how the day went. I am swimming in the depths, trying to figure out which way to go, but the water is too dark, the sun is not strong enough. Someone, somewhere is pulling me. I am unable to see the fish.