21 February 2014

Reeling In the Years

This time around, I got one thousand words and the title of a song, chosen at random by my music player. Beats Audio gave me a Steely Dan song; my brain gave me the following surreal thumbnail sketch:


“Reeling in the Years”

“Do you believe in life after death?” he asked Paul.

“How do you know you aren’t dead already?” Paul replied.

He chuckled, and cast his line. The red ribbon he had tied to the hook reminded him of an autumn leaf. The sinker plopped into the river, and dragged the ribbon under. It became a smear of blood, then vanished into the brown water.

“I remember when Audra died,” he said. He reached down between his legs, picked up the beer can between his feet. The bottom of the boat had an inch of water in it. A minnow swam there and nibbled once in a while at the toe of his boot. He brought the can to his mouth and sipped. The beer was warm, going flat; the can gave it a metallic, bloody taste. He drank more.

“She was always so beautiful,” Paul said.  

“Not at the end,” he replied. “At the end she was thin, sick, scared. Alone. Even with me in the room, sitting at her bedside, holding her hand, she was alone. She called for me. Didn’t see me there. Didn’t feel my fingers squeezing hers. There was nothing beautiful about it, Paul. She was terrified.”

A loon’s hollow, choking voice bubbled across to the boat. Above, a willow tree reached bare branches down, trailed their skeleton fingers in the water.

“When you first met her, though,” Paul said. “What a day that was.”

He smiled. “True. She asked me to dance, did you know that? Don’t think I ever told you that. You know, I was too embarrassed to admit to her that I couldnt dance my way out of a cardboard box. A right fool I looked out there, trying to keep up with her.”

“I remember. Still wish I’d had a camera on me.”

They shared a dry laugh. The loon called again. He reeled in the line; Paul reached into the cooler for a beer and a sandwich. There was a brief tug on the hook, then nothing. He reeled some more. Paul’s sandwich dripped ketchup from one side, into the water at their feet. The minnow swam over to him. It began to nibble at his toes.

The hook emerged; the ribbon was gone. He took it into the boat, found another bow in the tackle box, wrinkled pale organdy. Once it had been ivory white, now it was yellow.

“I still feel bad for stealing her away from you,” he said. He kept his eyes on Paul as he affixed the ribbon to the hook. “I know you had your eye on her too.”

“Please,” Paul said, He waved the sandwich at him, dripping more ketchup. “Audra was a person, not a thing to be kept or stolen or locked away in some dungeon tower. And anyway, I couldn’t dance any better than you could.”

Another laugh passed between them. A mallard and its mate swam near the boat; Paul broke off a crust from his sandwich and scattered it on the water.

They hurried away, feet churning the surface.

“You’ll scare the fish off,” he said to Paul.

“Like we ever caught anything out here.”

He grunted, and cast his line again. The brackish water stole the color from the ribbon and returned it to ivory before devouring it.

“We caught fish all the time with Dad,” he said. A dog barked in the distance. “At least until that time you fell in. Remember, Dad said you scared all the fish away?”

“That’s not what he said.”

“I know.”

A dog barked in the distance. He wound the line on the reel, each click of handle, gear and spool like the tick of a watch wrapped in cotton. The minnow swam from Paul’s toe back to his boot. The dog barked again, then howled; a rough, guttural sound.

The line jerked, then was still.

“She’s gone,” he said to Paul. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Paul. I’ve been with her for so long, I don’t know how to live without her. I look in the mirror and I see the empty part of me that used to be her in my eyes.

“I never . . . I never felt old until now.”

There was a faint smile in Paul’s voice. “You’ll get used to it.”

“I don’t want to, dammit,” he said. The air whistled out of him like he’d taken a punch to the gut. “Audra? My friends? Mom? Dad? And y--and all you can say is I’ll get used to it? That it’s okay?”

“I never said that,” Paul replied.

He looked down at his feet. “I know.”

He reeled the line in. The organdy bow was half eaten, full of holes. He took it off the hook and threw it to the water. The tackle box was empty, save for one last scrap of fabric: a stained white linen with a blue stripe on it. The stripe was faded almost to grey, like his own hair. He studied it for a long time.

“What’s the point of it all?” he asked Paul. “Why do we spend our lives making all these connections, falling into all this god damned love, pledging our hearts, only to lose that love and break those hearts, over and over again? What does it mean? Does it ever come right in the end? All that love we pour out of ourselves . . . does it come back to us? Or do we just empty ourselves until we’re hollow? Until we’re used up and withered and our hearts have been broken too much to heal again? How do we face it? How do we endure?

“For Christ’s sake, what’s the

He looked up, but Paul was gone. A widening spiral of ripples marked the water.


  1. Beautiful, true, a great pondering moment at the end. Very well written sir.

  2. Sad and well done.

  3. The tone your presented played perfectly with the story. And I absolutely loved what you did with the bits of cloth and the fishing. Thanks for sharing Jay!

    1. Thanks AJ! I was really pleased with the way everything came together--especially as I wrote it sitting on my couch while my kids were repeatedly trying to murder each other between episodes of "Jackie Chan Adventures." Ah, the writing life. :)

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