The Journey Prize Stories 21 (2 page)

BOOK: The Journey Prize Stories 21
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n their way down to Ecky's for an oil change and filters his father pulls into Canadian Tire. Stares at the lures as long as his hand. Shimmering eyes and thick as sausage – the long wicked dangle of treble-barbed hooks – they look like specimens bungled by God. Or something older than God. And crueller.

As his father slides a box – it says
– from one of the long jutting prongs, the boy slips round the end of the shelf. Walks past the spinners and the hairy buzzbaits to the display of shiny spoons. Sees the Red Devil. Notes the price. Moves down the aisle. Stands on tiptoes – his father is reading the back of the box – then scans the display of rods and sees the one his father got him. Checks the tag. Then the selection of open-faced reels. Finds one like his then does the sum. Knows they are not poor. But knows they don't have heaps. And feels the weight of forty dollars.

His father says Son?

The boy scoots back and says I'm here.

Suppose we should be going.

Gonna get that one?

Thought I might.

Maybe it's the charm.

Over the box his father makes a jokey cross and says Hope so.

They walk to the cash and his father pays half with Canadian Tire money and half with real dollars. Then they drive to Ecky's. Pull up in front of the service bay. A car in there with its hood way up. The boy's father rolls down his window. Leans his head out and makes a bullhorn with his hand. Weren't you fixing that one last week?

Ecky leans around the hood and says You're next.

Only kidding, Hector. Take your time.

His father turns off the car and says Shall we pop up to Wing's?

And the boy says Sure.

They get out and his father tosses the keys in the car. They bounce beside the bag with the lure in it.

Up at Wing's they sit at the counter and his father nods hello at the men always there. The waitress named Mary is down near the end talking to a guy in a Roughriders coat. She puts down her smoke and says Hey Morris, tea?

The boy's father says Coffee I think.

And then Mary looks at the boy. He looks at his father.

Tell her what you'd like, lad.

The boy looks back at Mary and says Root beer?

Fountain or can.

The boy says Can. And then he says Please.

Mary serves them and says How's Carol?

And the boy's father says She's well.

Good to hear, says Mary, and she looks down the counter.

The boy's father says Back on the fags?

Hard when you work in a place like this.

Hard anytime.

You want a menu, Morris?

Fine just now, love.

Back in the kitchen Wing hits the bell and says Pick up pick up. Mary goes back to get the order. The boy bends his straw and watches his father pour cream in his coffee and stir long and slow as he looks down the counter and joins in the blather – jokes, the weather, Trudeau, and who's died. The boy drinks his Hires. Turns on the stool. But only a little. Nibbles his straw. Closes one eye and looks in the can. His father turns back and says You peckish?

The boy looks up and says French fries?

His father nods. Orders a plate and they share. With malt vinegar.

Not bad these.

Mum's are better.

So I'll have the last one.

The boy looks at it. His father says Yours. And slides two bucks under the edge of the plate. They get up to go. Wing comes out for a swallow of Pepsi. Wipes his shiny forehead with the length of his arm and says Hello Morris, how are you how are you?

Good, Wing. Yourself?

Oh busy busy. Plan for weekend?

Fishing, Wing.

This time of year? Weather no good.

Perfect for muskie.

A couple of men at the counter look over and Wing stops drinking his Pepsi. Looks at the boy and says You go?

The boy only nods.

And Wing says Wow. Then he spreads his arms wide and says Big fish.

The boy nods again.

And Wing says Be careful he no eat you.

The men at the counter laugh and the boy looks at Mary. She blows out smoke and smiles softly at him. The boy looks down. His father waves bye to her and to Wing and Wing says Bye, good luck good luck!

A man at the counter says He'll need it he'll need it. And he laughs with the others as the bells on the door – three of them on a shiny red ribbon – bounce and clang and rattle behind the boy and his dad.

Up at Ecky's the car isn't done. The boy and his father stand in the bay. Grease stains and tools. Sunshine Girls all over a wall. And on the wall opposite a huge stuffed muskie – Ecky says lunge – on a fancy piece of wood with a brass plaque on it. The boy's father has another look and shakes his head. Forty-eight pounds, Hector.

Under the car Ecky says Yep.

Must have been a fight.

Ecky slides out and looks at the fish but doesn't say anything. Slides under again.

The boy's father says What did you use?

Ecky says Eh?

His father says Bait.

And Ecky says Frog.

The boy's father crouches and looks under the car. Plastic? he says.

Nope, says Ecky, real.

Can't say I've tried it.

Hardly use anything else. For muskie.

Never jerk bait?

Ecky slides out and stands up and says You know why they call it that?

I think I hear what you're saying, Hector.

Ecky wipes his hands on a rag and says Don't mind my sayin –

Go ahead.

Saw that eight-dollar gizmo on the front seat.

The boy says Really it was four.

Yeah, well. You're goin up to Crowe, right?

The boy and his father nod.

Lotta shoals out there, Morris. Weedbeds – right between the islands there – perfect.

The boy's father nods and says That's where I trawl.

Had a follower?

Earlier this fall. I could
it, Ecky. Not ten feet from me. It
the lure. Like it knew, the bugger.

It won't nudge a frog. How does one –

‘ Tween the islands there. The ones closer to the western shore. Lob it out on the lily pads. Let it sink a little. Jig it a bit. Don't reel too fast.

What sort of hook?

Big one, laughs Ecky. And he hooks his finger – his filthy pointed nail – beneath the boy's chin. Put it through here, he
says. Or here. Then he turns out his leg like a Sunshine Girl. Points near his crotch and says The meaty part. It'll kick. Bleed a little. Hello, fishy – he nods and smiles – that's what you want.

Where will I find live frogs this time of year?

Place outside of Marmora. I know the guy. When you goin.

Tomorrow first thing.

I'll call him.

Thank you, Hector.

No bother.

The boy's father turns around and looks at the muskie again. So does the boy. The snout on it. The teeth. The boy's father says One hell of a fight.

And Ecky says Why it's on the wall, Morris.

Can one man land it?

Ecky points at the boy and says He goin with you?

His father's hand on the boy's shoulder. Yes, he is.

Ecky horks in a grease stain – it jiggles and glistens – and looks at the boy. Guess, he says, you get to gaff the whore.

At home as they pack the car the boy's father hefts the big pole hook and says Like this, son. Through the gills. Then you lift it in the boat and if it's still fighting I'll bash it with the truncheon. Try.

The boy takes the hook. Looks at the horrible barb. Tries to picture the fish. Grips the pole hard. Behind him his mother opens the door to the kitchen. The boy swings the hook.

Morris, says his mother, what is he doing with that?

He's doing fine is what.

Dad, I don't think I'm strong enough.

Son, with my luck you won't need to be. The boy looks at his mother. She shakes her head and says Supper.

The boy and his father quickly wash up and then they sit down in the kitchen. It's mostly leftovers. His mother says she'll make sandwiches with the rest of the roast and wrap up the last of the cake as well. Then she goes to her room while the boy and his father wash the dishes. After that they finish packing the station wagon and the boy watches as his father hitches the trailer and backs out to the end of the drive so there won't be so much noise in the morning. They go back in and his father says Make an early night of it. The boy walks down the hall but the washroom door is closed and he can hear his mother having a bath. He walks back to the living room but his father is not there and then the boy hears the scraping of the chair on the floor in the basement and knows his dad will be there a while. Sharpening hooks. Or doing maths. Or just sitting there.

In his own room the boy sets the alarm on the clock just in case his father sleeps in. Then he gets on the bed and kneels at its edge. Imagines the gaff in his hands and swings it. Then he lies back. Stares at the ceiling. It has a new crack.

The release of the lock on the bathroom door. His mother's footfalls. He reaches over his nightstand and opens the door a little. She still knocks. He says Come in. She smells of steam, and coconuts. A towel on her head the way women twist it. The boy sits up. His back against the headboard. She sits on the edge of the bed. Looks around his room a moment. He says All done in the washroom? She nods. He says Have to get ready for bed.

All right, says his mother. Just came in to say – hope you have fun.

We will.

You don't have to do anything you don't want. The boy looks at his feet and says The presents said from both of you.

His mother says nothing. Then touches his knee. And she says Wear your lifejacket. Starts to stand up.

But the boy says Promise.

And she leans toward him. Her bathrobe bulging at the top. The boy can see down it to the diagonal scar but he looks away and they hug hard and the boy says It was good on my birthday, Mum.

She stands and sniffs and says I'd best make your sandwiches.

In the bathroom the boy swipes the mirror and does behind his ears. Then his teeth and a gargle and he splashes the sink clean. Gives the taps and faucet a shine with the face towel.

On the way back to his room he sees his mother standing at the counter with bread and wax paper and the rest of the beef. She's holding a knife that has butter on the end and she's looking out the window. And humming.

In his room he lies down and puts his hands behind his head. Hears his mother finish up in the kitchen and go to her room. Listens for his father coming up the basement stairs. Then lets his eyes close.

When they open again it is dark and his arms are numb. He slips them out from beneath his head and flops them down one at a time and they go pins and needles as he rolls over and squints at the clock – a quarter to one. Hum of the
fridge. The heat coming on. Moon on his pillow. He turns the clock face away. Breathes out his nose. Falls back asleep but keeps seeing the frog. As though from beneath. Up through the murk. Where it kicks and kicks in the warm and the light. He rolls over again and hears the pulse in his ear then opens his eyes and gets out of bed. Kneels at the foot. Head on his fists. And his lips move but he's not really talking. Doesn't know what to ask. Then he sits on his hands at the edge of the bed. Looks at the moon. Then closes his eyes and tries to think nothing until he hears his father trying not to make noise in the kitchen. Running water. The kettle on.
of the lid on the tea canister. Three heapers in the tall orange thermos. The kettle unplugged before it starts whistling. Water filling the thermos and then his father screws on the lid and gives it a shake. His footsteps in the hallway. 5:01. A knock on the door with just one knuckle and then he pushes it open and takes a step in and stops short when he sees the boy standing.

I'm ready.


The boy nods and follows his father to the darkness of the kitchen where they share a glass of apple juice and lean against the counter. His father hands the boy the glass and nods at what's left. The boy gulps it down. Puts the glass beside the sink and looks at the new pink J Cloth draped over the faucet. His father unscrews the thermos cap and lifts out the tea bags – four of them – by their corners like the tails of small steaming fish. Drops them in the sink – it still smells like Ajax – and screws the lid and the cup back on and reaches for the cooler on the counter. But the boy says I've got it. And follows his
father like a thief through the hush of the house. By the door they step into shoes and his father nods at the boy's wind-breaker hanging from the middle hook and then he opens the door. Birds. The pale moon. And there are still crickets.

The boy puts on his windbreaker and shivers on his way to the wet-gleaming car. The engine idles smoothly and the boy's father says Well done, Hector. And the boy remembers the fingernail. The little notch it made.

As his father reverses the boy looks at the blinds on his mother's bedroom window. Thinks he sees a chink. Waves a little. His father doesn't notice. Doesn't speak. Just drives. North. Highway 28. Then east on 7. The car very warm. The boy's eyes heavy. His head bobs. He resists. Then doesn't. Feels between his ribs sometime later the thumb of his father. Opens his eyes and looks where his father is pointing. Sun coming up. Sky the same colour as a splayed lake salmon. But the boy says Beautiful. Then blinks hard and gives his head a shake. Looks around. They have left the places that feel like places. Here is like pictures in Art and Geography. Granite. An esker. Jack pines. A river.

Much further?

His father says No. Turns on the radio then hits the middle button and twists the knob a bit. Mostly cloudy, a high of six, chance of showers in the late afternoon, some gusting. His father says Good. Then turns down the volume. People talk about the hostages in Iran and then the boy sees a homemade sign –
– on a telephone pole. He looks at his father. Looks up ahead. Sees a small shop and says Looks closed.

BOOK: The Journey Prize Stories 21
3.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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