By: Georgios Karagiannis
Steve and his brother Bill walked down the narrow dirt road, towards the river. It was still dark outside and cold, but they didn’t mind. They snuck out right before dawn, while dad was snoring on the sofa. That scene of dad sleeping downstairs had been repeating so often lately, that it was now almost expected of him – some sort of routine.
The night before they had prepared everything – the lines, rods, and bait. They put the lines and bait inside a plastic fishing box with a transparent top, and the plastic fishing box was put inside a plastic bag. Bill now carried the bag, and they each held their own rod. It was always done that way – that was the agreement. Steve would carry the bag on their way back home.
‘‘Do you think today will be the day?’’ Bill asked.
Steve didn’t get a chance to reply: ‘‘Because I do. Can you imagine how much the big one will pull? I hope my rod is strong enough.’’
They had walked for a while when the first light appeared from behind the hills.
‘‘Do we have enough bait?’’
‘‘I took six from dad’s stash, the biggest ones I could find’’ Steve replied.
‘‘Good. Big fish need big bait; don’t you remember my personal record last summer?’’
Steve was never allowed to forget about Bill’s personal record.
‘‘Of course I remember’’ he said.
‘‘It chose my bait instead of yours, simply because I chose a bigger worm’’.
They arrived at the river bank and lay a big towel down on the grass. There was a familiar, distinct smell around, that of wet soil and old wood. They opened the small bait case and took out one worm each. They passed their hooks all the way through the worms, and cast the rods into the water.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was silent by the river; you could only hear the occasional sounds of insects and the water flowing. Across the west bank, on the horizon, the flock of dim town lights had already started to fade away, making place for the faint shapes of houses and trees. Sitting next to each other on their big towel, the brothers focused all their attention on the floats.
‘‘Do you think mum and dad are getting a divorce?’’ whispered Steve.
‘‘Do you even know what a divorce is?’’
‘‘I do. Larry’s parents got one last year, you forgot?’’
‘‘I did not. So, what about it?’’ Bill said and turned his face back towards the river.
‘‘What will happen next?’’
‘‘I don’t know. ’’
Steve looked back at his float, which was spawning small, irregular waves around it every now and then.
‘‘Would you prefer to live with mum or with dad?’’ he finally asked, and the tone of his voice was now different, more decisive than before.
‘‘What kind of stupid question is this?’’ Bill said and looked at him.
‘‘It’s not stupid. This is exactly what happened to Larry.’’
‘‘His father always smelled bad, so Larry is lucky to live with his mother now. Dad does not smell and loves mum.’’
‘‘But what about her?’’ Steve insisted.
‘‘Well, she loves him back, don’t you think?’’ Bill replied, and he was visibly irritated.
At that very moment, Steve’s float dove fully into the water and then popped out. Then again, and again, until Bill jumped up from the ground:
‘‘A bite! Wake up, Steve, set the hook!’’
Steve needed a couple of seconds to realize what was happening and stand up, and, with a swift, aggressive move, he pulled the rod’s tip back towards his body.
‘‘It’s on, Bill! The float is gone, look how it bends the rod!’’
‘‘This is it! My new record. Don’t you dare lose it!’’
Steve started turning the reel, but there was a lot of resistance. He tried harder, but the fish was too big. They heard a daunting sound; after that, the rod straightened.
‘‘What are you doing? You have to give it some line when it’s so big! Are you stupid?’’ yelled Bill, and threw his rod on the grass. He didn’t mean it.
Steve did not respond. He slowly reeled in what was left of the line; the worm was gone, and so was the hook. Bill would not waste time; he grabbed the cut line swiftly, and tied a knot to the new hook he took from the fishing box.
‘‘There, this will do it. Cast it back into the water.’’
He didn’t say a word and obeyed the command.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was calm for a long time after the bite. The sun was now over their heads, blinding their eyes and breaking the morning chill. Far away, on the other side of the river, the town lay quietly surrounded by the green countryside and short, uneven hills.Sitting down on the towel, they were both looking at the floats.
‘‘Well, we can make a competition about it. How does that sound?’’ Bill said, and caught Steve by surprise.
‘‘A competition about what? ’’
‘‘Your previous question, Steve. One of us will have to stay with mum, I guess, so it is only fair to leave it up to fate.’’
‘‘Maybe you are right, I don’t see any other way.’’ Steve admitted. ‘‘What do you have in mind?’’
‘‘It is very simple actually – whoever catches the biggest fish today gets to decide with whom to live.’’ explained Bill. ‘‘He must choose either dad, or mum. The loser has no say in it.’’ His eyes were wide open and his face looked proud, as if he’d made some profound discovery.
Steve agreed to the terms, and they shook hands in a very formal way. After all, he never really thought his brother was better than him in fishing, regardless of what Bill believed. There was, however, a small detail: ‘‘What if nobody catches anything?’’ Suddenly, it was evident to both that there was no point in asking this question out loud:
‘‘Steve, where’s your float? I can only see mine.’’ said Bill, and stood up from the ground out of instinct.
This time Steve was more prepared, and he landed the fish quickly while trying not to think of the high stakes involved. It was a small gray trout, with yellow spots on its sides and an orange belly. Bill, whose face grew pale following the bite, regained his confidence when he saw the fish. There was a subtle smile of relief on his face, but he said nothing.
‘‘Well, he really looks small’’ Steve admitted. ‘‘What should I do with him?’’
‘‘What do you mean? It’s our only catch so far, and we are almost out of time.’’
‘‘But he’s so small,’’ he said. ‘‘nothing compared to your personal record.’’
‘‘What do you want to do then?’’ Bill asked. His brother was looking down and would not reply, as if he was not physically able to.
Bill continued: ‘‘Keep him, Steve. We can put him in the pond next to the house. He might be happier there, where the water is still. Swimming upstream all your life must be very hard.’’
Steve kept thinking for some seconds, and then grabbed the fish. Although small, the hook looked quite big compared to the trout, and it was not an easy task to take it off its mouth without cutting its lip. He walked with a steady pace until he reached the water, and then gently placed the fish back inside. They both watched silently as it got carried away, almost indistinguishable from the colorful pebbles lying on the bottom of the river.
They took off without saying a word, and walked side by side up the dirt road. Steve held the bag with the fishing box, and they each held their own rod. The load was now heavier for him, but that was the agreement. It was always much heavier on the way back home.
Georgios Karagiannis was born in Athens, Greece and currently resides in Croatia. He has a Ph.D in Theoretical Physics, and works for an information technology company. He has numerous publications in scientific journals, and is currently exploring his abilities in writing what he loves reading the most: flash and short literary fiction.