award winning dramatic short story

“Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,—
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground:
Another race the following spring supplies:
Theyfallsuccessive,and successive rise.”
Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,—
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground:
Another race the following spring supplies:
Theyfallsuccessive,and successive rise.”
Homer, The Iliad


Though I have not been here in several summers, the feel is familiar. The first gold
fingers of sun are breaking over the mountain and will soon abscond with the chill of dawn,
replacingit with a welcome,velveteen warmth.The light moisture that has collected during
thenightwillreturntotheair andsky;myworldisintransition.Fromtheupperbranches
ofa large Cottonwood,an owlcalls out.His songis low and hauntingand daybirds whistle
and chirp their own virgin melodies in response.Bedded animals stir,predators take tothe
skies, and soon the horseflies will be circling for their own prey.
hough I have not been here in several summers, the feel is familiar. The first gold
fingers of sun are breaking over the mountain and will soon abscond with the chill of dawn,
replacingit with a welcome,velveteen warmth.The light moisture that has collected during
thenightwillreturntotheair andsky;myworldisintransition.Fromtheupperbranches
ofa large Cottonwood,an owlcalls out.His songis low and hauntingand daybirds whistle
and chirp their own virgin melodies in response.Bedded animals stir,predators take tothe
skies, and soon the horseflies will be circling for their own prey.

The river flows steady and quiet through the flats of the canyon. It is a glorious
moment, and I am sorry I have been away so long. I am here to fish the big Hoback River,
though by free will or grand design I am unsure. What matters is that I have come.

I’ve brought my son’s favorite rod: a Winston Bamboo that I purchased when he was
but six or seven—a tool my wife Amy said cost more than our first car. It’s funny how
perspective changes. The rod is a good piece of craftsmanship and worthy of this river. Any
fishermen who has worked it knows the Hoback is full of thick, spirited, Wyoming fish; fish
with the fight of the devil in them.

I walk for a mile, my head full of thoughts with which I would rather not contend.
Mysteps are unsure and tentative on the narrow,worn trail.The high altitude sun has now
completelyescaped the mountain’s imprisonment,hot on myhat and skin.Istop and sit on
asmoothboulder thatintrudes,halfunderground,attheedgeofthetrail.Iwipeasheenof
sweat from my forehead and take a long pull from my canteen. The water is fresh and cool
and satisfying.Itake the opportunitytounpackthe trout stickfrom the sheath slungon my
back, examine its smooth, jointed surface, and test the snap: once, twice, three times.


I stand and forge ahead, carrying the rod in one hand before me to keep it from
snagging on the willow branches. It feels awkward yet dramatic, as if I wield some sort of
protective staff before me—me, a poor excuse for Moses under any context. The truth is,
however, that my rod may indeed serve as a talisman of sorts—a shield against the voices
that haunt me; the ghostly accusers who claim I will never accept the truth of why my boy
is dead.
stand and forge ahead, carrying the rod in one hand before me to keep it from
snagging on the willow branches. It feels awkward yet dramatic, as if I wield some sort of
protective staff before me—me, a poor excuse for Moses under any context. The truth is,
however, that my rod may indeed serve as a talisman of sorts—a shield against the voices
that haunt me; the ghostly accusers who claim I will never accept the truth of why my boy
is dead.

The voices are rarelymore than an ephemeralwhisper,but stilltheyoverpower my
thoughts. The ghosts are certain that God has forsaken me, and they do not relinquish in
the reminding of such. They are derisive and accusatory toward this supposed God, this
omnipotent being who, as a child, did comfort me, but who, in adulthood, turned his back
on me and in a final stroke of cruelty—or perhaps only apathy—allowed the theft of our
only child.

And If I touched my rod to the river, and if the water turned to blood, would that be
enough to restore faith in a God who would take a young boy from his father and mother
before it was time?

When I was young I was enthralled by such magnificent stories, but now I was
mostly content to nurture the seeds of disappointment, loss, and shame, seeing to it that
the flowers of anger could blossom fully in my soul.

The ghosts, sensing a foothold, breathe life into scarred, inanimate memories,
resurrecting them:

A knock at the front door.

Two cops, their countenances betraying an instinctual desire to be anywhere else but
where they are, tasked with such unthinkable burden.

Numbnessumbness.
The lingering specter of flesh, and bone.
The whiskey-orange comfort of solitary retreat.


An enormous cow moose erupts from a tangle of willows at the water's edge,
stunning me back to the present. My heart is like a thundering herd in my chest as she
crashes toward me down the path. She stops abruptly just twenty yards away in a
defensive stance, a terrifying thing to behold—all legs and snout and malice. Adrenaline
rages though me, making me brave enough, at least, to resist the urge to bolt. My knees,
however, have not heard the call to arms. They have become like gelatin, completely
unreliable.

The beast gives no ground, driven by surety of purpose. The only sound is our
labored, synchronized breathing. Then comes a small crackling of branches and a calf
stumbles clumsily from the thicket behind her, seemingly unconcerned with this
intersection of species. The mother stares not past me but through me, ready to kill or die,
whatever fate requires. Backing up methodically, careful to keep my eyes on the moose, I
put some distance between us. Once I am out of her sight, and do not hear her following, I
turn north, scrambling up a small incline of dirt and shale, searching out the highline trail.

As I crawl upward—sweating fully now, the rivulets running down my back, making
me wish I had layered better—I think about the instinctual devotion in nature that speaks
to me. I would have gladly died for my son, but he was nearly a man; he had not followed
dutifully behind me for years. I could not burst through the foliage ahead of him and clear
the way. I could not defense him. There was nothing I could have done.

At least that's what I tell the ghosts, fearing more than anything that it is untrue.

But my accusers do not taunt me now. They are content that I have come here, to
this place ofglorious memory.Theyare nodoubt sure Iwillsuccumb tothe past,that Iwill
be drowned by the relentless grasp of failure, that invisible force that pulls one downward,
consistent as gravity, deadly as the undertow beneath the majestic surface of the ocean.
ut my accusers do not taunt me now. They are content that I have come here, to
this place ofglorious memory.Theyare nodoubt sure Iwillsuccumb tothe past,that Iwill
be drowned by the relentless grasp of failure, that invisible force that pulls one downward,
consistent as gravity, deadly as the undertow beneath the majestic surface of the ocean.

I, the father.

Provider.

Protector.

The horrific, shameful incongruity of a father’s love and a parent’s failure to
protect the one he loves the most.

But there is something my tormentors may not have considered:

Perhaps in this formidable place of history and camaraderie I can be washed clean.
The river before me is forever renewed, after all, unencumbered by the bonds of duty or
emotion or guilt.And Brodyloved thisspot.Aflyfisher'sparadise,he calledit,and Iagreed.

Ilearned what Iknowofthe sport here,with myown father.And somyson learned
here too.

Ten and two.

Balance.

Rhythm.

We fished here as father and son, but also as compatriots. As if there was a purpose
in the bonding.Ahandingdown ofthe flame.

I will make you fishers of men.

I descend again toward the river’s edge, hopeful the moose have moved away for
their forage. Willow branches whip lightly, snapping against day-old whiskers. The left

wader finds water first,and even through the insulation,the icyriver bites.It is earlyin the
season, the water deep from the run-off. Too cold and fast for fishing maybe, but that
matters little.
ader finds water first,and even through the insulation,the icyriver bites.It is earlyin the
season, the water deep from the run-off. Too cold and fast for fishing maybe, but that
matters little.

I will be casting for answers and will be fortunate to set a hook.

The current is strong and pressing through to the manageable water proves more
difficult than I remember. I feel so old. Amy says sorrow of such magnitude adds decades.
We have known each other almost thirty years—since childhood—and I still admire her
candor and wisdom.

I also understand her. Amy’s pain runs deeper and is the harder to bear. She is a
mother. She can neither curse it nor welcome it. Loss seeks her more diligently and finds
her more often. Her tears come from that secret, bottomless reservoir of the nurturing
soul.

Together we have tried to believe there is an answer in all of this, something that
will bring focus to a picture of existence clouded by grief. We have found little respite,
drowning, breath by breath over the years—having tread too long in the black water of
these quarries of sorrow, the steep granite walls of regret boxing us in.

Blame is the bite of the horsefly.

I am convinced Amy blamed me, if only for a time. It was as if she believed I could
overcome my own shortcomings and be with him at all times. I was the father, after all—I
taught him to ride; I cheered out of stupid manly pride as he rocketed down the hills, brave,
afraid of nothing.

She never blamed God. He was her shelter in midst of the hurricane.

I, however, found no comfort in my decrepit faith. I had lost touch years ago, instead

chasingsuccess anda smallfortune,content toembrace the journeyin the here and now,to
make my mark on the Earth; my goal to chisel my initials into this rock sailing through the
cosmos. To be remembered.
hasingsuccess anda smallfortune,content toembrace the journeyin the here and now,to
make my mark on the Earth; my goal to chisel my initials into this rock sailing through the
cosmos. To be remembered.

A horsefly bites my shoulder, hard, right through my cotton shirt. I reach for him,
but flexibility and dexterity are gone, exchanged on some forgotten birthday for failing
eyesight and a touch of arthritis. He bites again, deeper this time, drawing good blood. Then
he is off. Sated.

The sting and itch linger.

***

The day we buried Brody—the day we put our precious, seventeen year-old son in
the cold ground—I read a card from a distant relative suggesting that it was far better that
we experience the gift of a child's presence and love than to never to have known him at all.

Sentimentality makes terrible balm for the real wounds of the soul.

After the funeral service, I spoke to an old family friend who had lost an arm in the
second World War. We talked to mark time, drinking tepid, bitter coffee; nibbling at stale,
day-old church cookies.He said that after he lost the arm he came to wish he’d never had it
in the first place. It just made learning to depend on the remaining arm all the more
difficult.

“You can’t miss a thing that was never there,” he said. “You can’t build a dependency
on a void.”

I was akin to his loss and touched by his candor. I was also amazed by his genius.

You can’t miss a thing that was never there. ou can’t miss a thing that was never there.

My foot slips on a rock and I nearly go down. The adrenaline surges again, waking
me up.

Time is a loitering thief, stealing the best of us when we are looking the other way.

When did I become such a clumsy old man?

When did I lose my spirit?

The ghosts gather like a storm wind, bolder now, a pack of predators sensing the
injured animal’s weakness.

You lost it long before that drunk took your boy away, old man. You gave in long
before then. Why do you think your son stopped talking to you? Do you think you had no part
in that chasm of hatred between you? Did you really believe his love could be so effortlessly
chased away by anyone else?

Guilt swirls inside me, starting at my numb feet and working its way up until it has
sickened me fully, yet again. I am intoxicated with hatred for myself, brimming with anger
at this God who wanted to teach me my lessons in such a devastating manner.

Myson had not spoken tome in months.Maybe it had even been a year.Ilost count.
I could not understand why. I had done everything for him. I had loved him, devoted myself
to him.

And because of that—because I was so full of self-appreciation for all my good
fatherly deeds; for doling out my love as if it were a grand gift for all who had the privilege
of receiving it. But I was also drunk on life-fueling pride and I would not be the one to reach
out; I could not forgive first.

But you were in the right! the ghosts shout. How could he not appreciate YOU, his
FATHER? How could he not speak to YOU? After all you did! ATHER? How could he not speak to YOU? After all you did!

These voices—my own voice—allowed me to poison what we had between us. My

own foolishness had given me permission to be absent when my son may have needed me

the most.

And then he was gone.

I was left to wrestle with the ghosts. I would never be able to tell him I knew I had
given up on us too.That Iwas the father,and Iowed him mypatience,myforgiveness,and
most importantly, a love without conditions.

But he was gone.

And the hope of ever loving someone so deeply again had left with him.

***

I find a spot with solid footing, pull a Black Flying Ant from my satchel, and snap it to
the leader. I cast out as if I have never fished before. The line immediately becomes tangled
and I lose my balance. In overcompensating, this time I do fall.The frigid water hits me like
the fists of a hundred men, stealing my wind, paralyzing every fiber and tendon and
corpuscle in my body. My rod starts to float away yet, miraculously—flailing with all I’ve
got—I am able to snag it before it is gone around the next bend.

I stand again, soaked through.

Cold and broken.

How do these things happen?
Who decides? ho decides?

You fish.

You die.

I stare at the river, full of fish, teeming with life. Perhaps to these creatures I am
divine. My rod is my staff. I fish the rivers; God fishes the Earth. We pull whom we may. A
shudder runs through me like a spear. Can there be no greater meaning? A sign on the
throne in heaven:

Gone Fishing.

I close my eyes, breathe in deeply, exhale slowly, clear my head. I listen to the river,
the sound of forever moving past. I can see Brody there, at my side, smiling up at me. His
presence surrounds me, devours me.

A slow wind sneaks across the water. A cloud passes overhead, chilling the air;
gooseflesh breaks out along my casting arm. I pull and the reel gives me line. The breeze
dies suddenly. The cloud passes and the warmth returns. I move the rod, slowly at first,
building rhythm and momentum, willing the muscle-memory of graceful harmony. The fly
dances at the end like a tiny, impatient fairy. I pop it twice atop the surface, then lay it down
for a few precious moments, letting it float on the strong shoulders of the river.

Did he work this hard for you, Brody?

I cast again. And again. The fly lights atop the surface, just beyond a shadowy depth,
floating past a small outcropping of timeless stone. A brookie rises from a favorite hole to
take his chance. The fly disappears and I snap the rod with a motion that belies the years
that have passed since I last fished here with my boy.

The hook sets.


Instinct prevails as I play the fish, keeping the tension as he darts back and forth,
attempting his run. Carefully I reel in the distance between us. He is strong, vibrant, full of
fight. Twice he clears the water, flipping and twisting.
nstinct prevails as I play the fish, keeping the tension as he darts back and forth,
attempting his run. Carefully I reel in the distance between us. He is strong, vibrant, full of
fight. Twice he clears the water, flipping and twisting.

The battle is measured in feet.

Then inches.

My aged muscles cry for reprieve.

Finally the battle is over.

I lift him from the water. As the air cocoons him, he struggles mightily. I grab hold of
him, firmly but gently. He is cool and sticky, drowning in the very atmosphere that brings
me life. His eyes are round and tearless.

Water leaks from my own eyes and falls into the flowing river. Grief and guilt spill
from me like a black plague. I stare at the moving water, my fish no longer fighting against
his fate.

He did nothing wrong. He didn’t quit on life. It was me. I gave in. You should have
taken me. Why the hell didn’t you take me?

I close my eyes and an image forms: a picture of a day when Brody was only twelve.
He is standingin front ofthe congregation ofhis mother’s church.He has chosen to profess
his faith. Sitting in the audience, I find myself slightly overwhelmed and embarrassed at the
swell of pride in my chest. I am out of place. But Brody is so determined. I glimpse in him
the man he will soon enough become.

He recites a well known passage from the Book of John:

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever
believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
The pastor congratulates Brody. Amy is beaming. I am, for the first time since
childhood, within personal distance of God. Our son smiles at us from the stage—not the
impish grin of a lad who has pleased, but the smile of a young man who has accomplished
something he has set out to do.
he pastor congratulates Brody. Amy is beaming. I am, for the first time since
childhood, within personal distance of God. Our son smiles at us from the stage—not the
impish grin of a lad who has pleased, but the smile of a young man who has accomplished
something he has set out to do.

Realization arrives like the late morning sun, burning off a low fog.

Faith once bridged the distance between me and God. Perhaps it could once again
bridge a distance: that between me and my little boy.

A different, benevolent ghost speaks:

Faith as clear and as never-ending as a high mountain stream. As forever as the love of
a father for his son. Faith that I would never let him die, but would instead offer him
everlasting life.

The cold water flows around me. No beginning or end.

Everlasting.

The tears flow freely now. I have not cried much since Brody’s funeral. My breaths
come in great, heaving sobs. My soul has been sealed off for so long, like a prisoner in
solitary confinement. It is as if the anger and guilt and loneliness, fighting so long to be free,
have finally breached the heart from within.

It occurs to me that the guilt I have kept prisoner in my soul is not for Brody but for
me. I have been clinging to his memory as if to an anvil, sinking in a torrential sea, afraid
that if I let go and forgive myself—if I allow myself to rise to the surface to breathe again,
Brody will truly be gone forever.

I have also been afraid of relinquishing him to God, afraid to concede defeat. Now,
here, in this splendor of nature, closer to God than I have been in years, I know that it is


safe for me to release him. To journey onward. afe for me to release him. To journey onward.

My free hand rummages in the satchel and eventually finds what it searches for. The
hook is set deep but the pliers help to remove it.

“Easy, friend. Easy.”

The fish squirms one last time. He has nearly given in.

I lower the brookie into the water. I catch a glimpse through the rippling surface as
he swims away to find the bends and shadows and deep spots. Back to his family. Back to
his life.

I push through the current, my staff in hand, faith no longer just a distant memory.
My mouth curls in a grin as I raise an arm against the hot, radiant sun.

The horseflies are no longer biting.


Поделиться: