Thank you for visiting ‘Very short stories r us,’ where I’ve been posting one story a week since May of this year. I woke up unusually early this morning just before, it seemed, a crucial turning point in a troubling dream, and while the coffee was brewing I scraped and washed a baking pan we had used last night for vegetarian sausages, a reassuringly mundane task. It is still quiet in the house.
Jim was fishing with his ten-year-old son, Hal. They did other things together too but those either left little space for conversation (tennis, skiing, videogames) or generated their own (chess, math homework). With fishing, once you baited your hook and dropped your line, then you were just sitting out there in the rented speedboat under the hot sun, waiting. Jim was a pretty good conversationalist if the other guy kept his half going, but Hal talked hardly at all, barely looked at Jim, and when he did he seemed to be either imploring him to talk or telling him it was hopeless to try, which Jim knew meant the same thing. He stared down at the little form of his son’s body, the thin strong arms holding the pole, the freckled face that was the seal on a thousand mysteries. “Did you have a nice week at your mom’s?” A little shrug. Bad opening line. Dumb. “Have you ever been fishing before?” Slight head shake. Classic out-of-touch dad question. God of the sea, help him. “I wish,” Jim said, “one of us would catch a talking fish.” Hal looked over at him warily and said, “What would it say?” “It would say, ‘Hey fellas, it’s a beautiful day, why so sullen?’” “No, no, Dad, it would be a shark, and it would say, ‘Hey fellas, it’s a beautiful day, really happy to be in this boat with you,’ but it would be lying to make us let down our guard, and then you’d just be sitting there going, ‘I caught a shark, I’m so happy, duh,’ and that’s when it would bite you really hard on the calf, right down to the bone, and I’d take off my t-shirt and tie it around the gash in your leg and you would say in this kind of weak shark bite voice, ‘Son, do you know how to operate this boat?’ and I’d say, ‘Yes, Dad, I do,’ and I’d steer us back to shore and in the mean time I’d radio to the paramedics to tell them to meet us at the dock. But when we’re about halfway there you go, ‘Son, I don’t think I’m gonna make it,’ and sure enough I look down and see blood all over the floor of the boat and that’s when I use fishing line to stitch up your cut while steering the boat with my other hand and we get to shore and the paramedics say, ‘You’ve done well, son, he’ll live, we’ll take him from here.’” Jim waited to see if his son would say anything else, but Hal was waiting for Jim to say something. “What happened to the shark?” Jim asked. Hal said, “Oh, it was still alive. Animal control wanted to kill it but Jim begged them not to. When Jim got out of the hospital he built a giant shark tank with his son Hal and put it in his living room, and when they were putting the shark in the tank the shark said, ‘Oh, no, fellas, don’t put me in here, I need to go back in the ocean where I can get caught again and bite other dads. Besides, I can only talk when I’m out of the water. Once I’m back in I can’t—Oh no! Glug, glug,’ and then they put the lid on the tank, and then whenever they played chess in the living room they looked over at the angry shark to remind them of the hard times they went through together.” That’s when Jim felt a tug on his line.