L. L. Madrid
Every Sunday my grandfather fishes at Ripple Pond. It’s an old habit, one anchored in boyhood. His mother allowed him to forgo church for fishing, as he was more contemplative by the water’s edge.
Today he’s wearing a neon orange baseball cap, his favorite for the last four decades. He looks maybe sixty. His age varies from week to week. Sometimes he’s as young as eight and others he’s the old man I knew. Always though, a toothpick juts from the corner of his mouth, often bouncing as if conducting the current.
During the initial sightings I confronted him, asking why he’d come, but he never answered. He wouldn’t even look at me. Instead, he’d wind his reel; grab his tackle and leave, disappearing at the tree line. I’ve spent six months of Sundays watching him fish.
When I was a kid he brought me here a fistful of times. The first outing he had a can of live worms. I didn’t want to bait the hook. The prospect of selecting a worm and impaling it was nauseating. Grandpa’s blue eyes narrowed when I’d asked him to skewer the bait for me. He spat, shook his head and said, “You got to do it yourself. Wouldn’t be honest otherwise.”
Fingers pinching a worm, I slid the wriggling creature onto the hook, pricking my finger in the process. Grandpa nodded his approval and reached into the front pocket of his shirt and handed me a toothpick. We didn’t speak again until after I got a nibble followed by a tug. A few cranks of the reel and I had a two-incher. Grandpa had me throw it back. It was my first catch and I wanted to keep it, but he insisted. My face went hot and words of protest bubbled inside me, but he offered up a rare smile and patted my back.
“It’s not about the catch,” he said.
“Then what’s the point?”
He held a finger to his lips and then gestured out toward the undulating liquid, the shifting variegations of cola-brown, peridot, and slate blue.
We grew comfortable sharing silence. Sitting side by side, our legs dangling from the dock as we both squinted at the sun like characters in a Rockwell painting. I contemplate those long-faded Sunday mornings, listing all the details I can conjure. The little yellow cooler. The entwining scents of pine and coffee. Feathered lures. Gooey orange bait. The whizzing, creaking whirl of the reel. There are neither hints nor harbingers suggesting he would continue the tradition after his death.
I wondered what, if anything, my grandfather remembers. I don’t know why I see him. No one else does. I brought Grammy here once as an experiment. Together we strolled circumnavigating the pond, as my eyes searched the shore, heart sinking. He didn’t show. Sensing my disappointment, Grammy squeezed my forearm. I haven’t brought anyone else.
Now, from under the shade of a great pine, I watch Grandpa rummaging through his tackle box, sifting its contents with just his fingertips. Taking careful steps I approach, my hand clenched tight, encasing an old pocketknife.
Sometimes he knows who I am. Mostly, he thinks I’m a stranger.
Others see him, not people who knew him, but joggers, dog walkers, and occasional anglers. They exchange nods, proof of awareness.
Today, I have a plan. My grandfather’s stare holds steadfast on the red and white bobber floating on the water below even as I crouch beside him. I lay a hand on his shoulder; it is solid and warm. At last, he looks at me and I reveal the pocketknife. The one he’d carried since Korea, the knife I’ve kept on me since his funeral. “You dropped this.”
The toothpick stills and there’s a glint in his eye. He shakes his head. “Hush now. You’ll scare the fish away.”
I sit beside him on the damp wooden planks. Dragonflies skim the water like thrown stones scattering the falling sunbeams. When I glance down at my legs I see that his are gone. I am alone on the dock. Next to me rests a solitary toothpick. A sigh of a laugh escapes me and I return my gaze to the pond.
L.L. MADRID lives in Tucson where she can smell the rain before it falls. She resides with her four-year-old daughter, an antisocial cat, and on occasion, a scorpion or two. Her work can be found lurking in various corners of the internet and at llmadrid.weebly.com.