Gone Fishing – a magazine short story
I wrote this short story for a magazine. At the time I thought this might be a good way to earn back up income for my writing. Plenty of writers have done it. My continued fascination with fishing imagery is clear.
If he was going to sit in the living room again all day, she thought she would scream. Jenny didn’t need to go in to know exactly how he was sitting, in his easy chair the remote on one side his cigarettes and lighter on the other, a cloud of smoke hazing the atmosphere. He would be flicking from channel to channel unable to settle. And he would sit there all day that was what amazed her.
It was just so unlike Andy, Jenny moved over to the kettle and switched it on. She despaired of him. It wasn’t like he’d lost his job or anything. All he had to do was apply for it again. Everyone said he’d get it easily. “You’re so good Andy they’d be mad to lose you.”
But ever since they’d called him into the office and told him they were restructuring he’d become another man. And he couldn’t speak about it. Introverted and thoughtful, he was quiet at the best of times, his feelings ran deep like the dark pools he fished.
Through the door she could see his fishing rods leaning against the wall. There were at least six and he’d just bought a new one. Usually on a Saturday Andy would get up early, have breakfast and then go fishing. Sometimes he would get up so early it was still dark and he took his breakfast with him. A bacon and egg sandwich more often than not. He made brilliant sandwiches, he’d made so many of them. Often Jenny went with him when he went fishing. She took her folding chair and a thermos, maybe her knitting, a book or a magazine. She loved the tranquillity of it, just sitting there by the stream or river and watching his line curling into the water. She knew all about the different fish and what they fed on, the type of water they liked.
She’d even tried fishing herself when she’d first met Andy, she’d been seduced by the open air and the landscape, the patience and the art of it. But she didn’t like catching the fish, the touch and smell of them, removing the hook from their mouths. “Perhaps you should fish without a hook,” Andy had joked. But that would have been a nonsense. She was happy to eat them after Andy had cleaned and cooked them though. Nothing beat the taste of food cooked outside, and freshly caught fish, delicate and moist, melted in the mouth. She especially loved brown trout cooked over an open fire. Jenny couldn’t remember the last time they’d cooked out of doors the mist rising from the river, the sun beginning to set.
The phone rang and jarred her back into the present.
“Mum?” It was Gayle. “How’s dad?”
So even Gayle was worried about him.“Not good. I don’t know what to do Gayle.”
Gayle was the practical one, had started her own business, house sitting and dog walking, and was doing really well.
” He should give his job up if it’s upsetting him this much.”
Jenny bit her tongue. It was no use pointing out to Gayle it was easier said than done. Andy had put his heart and soul into his job. He’d been with the firm twelve years. They owed him. But at the moment, in his present state, she couldn’t imagine him going for the interview never mind getting the job.
“I think if I got him out fishing he might begin to feel better. It’s been weeks I’ve never known him leave it for so long.”
“Oh dad and his fishing,” Gayle said impatiently. “I don’t know how you put up with it.”
“I like it,” Jenny said simply. “It’s good for him and I like going with him. Better than staying in with the television blaring that’s for sure.”
“Well make him go fishing then.”
“How do I do that?”
“I don’t know let me think about it. It can’t be that hard.”
Jenny felt a rush of relief for Gayle’s positive outlook and energy.
“Anyway how are you sweetheart?”
“Great. Busy but great. Anyway mum I’ll come round later and we’ll put our heads together. Maybe a spot of lunch?”
“I’m sure I can come up with something as long as you’re not on one of your diets.”
“Nope. Although I am eating really healthily at the moment. Some of your homemade tomato soup would be nice, maybe dad’s tomatoes from the garden.”
“Thanks mum. And mum…”
“Don’t worry. We’ll sort out dad between us.”
Jenny put the phone down and smiled. Sort out dad. Was he someone to be sorted out? Was it as simple as that?
This whole affair had unsettled both of them. The rumours were that the restructuring was just a means of cutting people’s pay. It seemed so unfair. The company relied on Andy, he already worked long hours, often unpaid overtime. But he didn’t mind because he loved his job, took pride in doing it well. This reapplication process had winded him as if he’d been punched in the stomach. It was as if all the time and effort he’d put in had been for nothing. It didn’t matter that everyone said the interview was a technicality, that he’d walk it. It felt offensive.
When Gayle came over for lunch Jenny said all this to her.
“You have to understand how hard this is for your dad.”
“I know. But maybe he needs to toughen up.”
Jenny felt a surge of anger. “Why? Why do we have to live in a world where people have to be tough to survive? I love your dad the way he is. I don’t want him to toughen up.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I like dad the way he is as well,” Gayle took her hand. “Look I’ve had an idea about the fishing.”
Later as Jenny was clearing up at the sink Gayle came over and put her arm around her waist. “You know dad’s lucky to have you. Worrying about him the way you do. I promise mum he’ll be fine. He’ll go into the interview and blow them away.”
“You think so?”
“I’m sure of it.” She gave her mum a kiss on the cheek. “Delicious soup by the way. Thanks.” And with her generous smile so like her dad’s, and a wave, she left.
The next morning, according to plan, Jenny set the alarm for five o clock. Andy muttered and turned over but did not wake. The idea in the end was very simple, they had decided to surprise him into fishing. She went downstairs and packed sandwiches and a flask got his fishing rods ready then went up and shook him.
“What?” He sat up bleary-eyed rubbing his face.
“Get up. We’re going fishing,’’ Jenny said.
She drove him to the riverbank in silence. They set everything up in silence. She put up her chair and covered herself in a rug, Andy cast his line and they waited.
It was a soft, summer morning with hardly a breeze. A pale light was already seeping over the riverbank. A willow dipped the tips of its branches into the water opposite, yellow lilies waited to uncurl in the sun, a coot skitted across the surface of the river making its familiar sound. This was Jenny’s favourite spot. How often had she sat here with Andy just watching and waiting, the stillness almost unbearable in its beauty. The rest of life in all its rush and bustle, its casual neglect of people and their feelings, seemed so distant as to be unreal.
Coming fishing had kept Andy sane, Jenny thought and now that had been taken away from him. And coming fishing had kept her sane too. She felt a sudden flash of shame. She realised she’d organized this fishing trip because she was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to go for his interview or, if he did go in his present state, he’d make a mess of it. She’d kidded herself that she’d just wanted to get her old Andy back and that was partly true, yet it had only been a part of it. She was scared too. Frightened that everything was going to come tumbling down around them.
But why should he put himself through something so humiliating. He would always have the secret fear he might not get it, that they’d give it to someone younger and cheaper. It seemed ridiculous having to prove himself even though they clearly knew his worth, they were always telling him they couldn’t do without him. She could hear Gayle saying, “It’s just the way of the world mum. You have to accept it.” But it didn’t make it right.
After a long while Andy put his rod down and came over to her.
“It’s no good,” he said.
“Give it time,” she said. “They’re just not biting yet.”
“No,” he paused. “Don’t you see? It’s no good because I don’t want to catch anything. I don’t want to pull a fish gasping for air out of the water and pull a hook from its mouth. Just to throw it back. I mean what a bloody pointless exercise.”
Horrified she saw he was crying. She couldn’t remember when she’d last seen him cry. She put her arms around him and rocked him.
“It all seems so pointless,” he said.
They packed everything up into the car without speaking. Silently they drove through quiet lanes, the banks lined with elderflower, delicate and ghostly in the early morning light. Jenny put down her window so she could catch the sweet smell of it mingled amongst the scent of damp grass and cut hay.
At last she broke the silence, “Do you remember the time you went to that fishing lake to catch carp? You told me a huge storm whipped up almost tropical. The rain was lashing, the wind blowing it almost horizontal. You were soaked to the skin. It was three o clock in the morning and you’d been fishing all night.”
“The tent blew away and caught on a tree.”
“That’s right and at the same moment you caught a massive carp the biggest you’ve ever caught.”
“It weighed thirty pounds.”
“And you said you forgot the tent and being tired and wet and cold. All you felt was the thrill of catching the carp.”
Jenny stopped the car in front of the house and turned towards Andy. “You’re the one who has taught me about patience, about studying the surface of the river seeing where the fish feed. You spend weeks walking the banks, finding out where the trout hide, watching them dapple and glide. And because of that you understand the smallest sign, you can read bubbles on the water that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else.”
She took his hand. “It doesn’t matter about this job Andy. All I know is they’re lucky to have you. We’ll manage whatever happens. You matter and if it means making big changes then we’ll do it. But nothing, nothing is worth you being made miserable.”
“You must want me to start fishing again really badly,” she couldn’t tell if he was smiling or not.
“It’s not about fishing. That’s not important. You can give it up.”
“Hey steady on.”
This time she could see the smile on his face. “We can still walk in the country, lie on the riverbank and watch the fish. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you.”
And Andy put his arms around Jenny and kissed her a long deep kiss that reminded her of their early courting days when they’d only just met.
Back in the river a brown trout danced away into the shadows and a blue-black dragonfly skimmed the surface of the water coming to rest on a yellow lily, the petals uncurled and stretched out in the full heat of the sun.
As already said I’ve explored fishing as a metaphor in previous blogs. I love the skill and art of fishing; the fact it is an activity steeped in stillness, quiet and beauty, but I hate the idea of hooking a fish only to throw it back into the water, I hate the idea of it as a sport. I did a lot of research and was excited when I wrote this; I care about the subject matter. I wrote this story for a magazine but I never sent it off. You can judge its success.