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      When I picked him up at about half ten, his mother stood in the doorway but didn’t come out. She said something to him before kissing him on the back of the head. He looked taller. Much taller than last time. I leant over to open the door and he got in the car.

     He pulled his seatbelt on. I told him he looks taller, but he didn’t hear--his mother was waving and he was waving back.

     I asked him how tall he was now. Stupid question. How would he know? I saw myself redden in the wing mirror as I pulled off the kerb and headed down the road. He shrugged, asking if he could have the radio on.

     Go ahead, I told him. Put whatever you want on. There’re some disks in the glove box. I popped the clasp to let him see. He scanned over them briefly--probably pretending--and said he’d rather it were just the radio.

     That’s fine, I said. Whatever’s best. I fumbled for something to say. Since we were on music, I asked him what he’s into, what’s he listening to these days. He shrugged again. Dunno. Anything, really.

     What else was there to talk about? How’s school? I see. Who are his friends? Oh, I don’t know them. Does he still talk to Liam? Not since junior school. Right, okay.

     The weather was perfect--overcast, with sunlight patching the sky here and there. Low winds. Cool, but not too cold.

     He’d love this place, I said. The trees. The hills. And the water. Llyn Brenig. It’s magnificent. He didn’t reply. He stared at the road, at the cars skimming alongside, at the people we drove by. After a pause he turned the radio up a little.

     Our surroundings passed gradually from the open roaring grey of the motorway to bustling country towns where everything is cobblestones and slate.

     Then all buildings were behind us. All people. All cars.

     We had entered that long quiet stretch of tarmac through the pine woods. Soon we came to the sign for Llyn Brenig. I checked the road behind us and then slowed, pointing up at the big green and white board, and the two round holes punched into the metal.

     Bullet holes, I told him, watching his face. His eyes became keen and I continued to watch him as he leant forward in his seat for a better view.

     Who could have done that? Young lads messing around, I reckon. He seemed alarmed and I told him there was nothing to worry about, that I’d never seen anyone round there with a gun. It probably wasn’t young lads. I don’t know who could have done it. They probably weren’t even bullet holes. We drove on.

     When we arrived he asked me if this was it. I parked and we got out and he looked around the car-park, at the smaller firs along the border and the wooden roof of the visitor centre just visible above the treetops. No, I said. You’ll see in a minute.

     So I went and paid and bought both our tickets, and when I came back I opened the car boot and we geared up. We slipped into our macks and I helped him into the khaki waistcoat that had been mine when I was a boy. It fit him fine. A bit big maybe. There were old fly hooks still imbedded in the woollen pad and I smiled, remembering that I’d hooked them there myself when I’d been out on the water with my father, all those years ago.

     I took out both the rods and showed him first how to fit a reel, then how to thread the line through the loops. He watched what I was doing closely. I must have seemed like an expert. Finally I showed him how to tie a fly knot--when I put a little spit on the line before pulling it tight he asked me why you had to do that, why spit on the line, and I told him it was to help the knot go tighter.

     Imagine hooking a big one, I said, and your line wasn’t tied tight! You’d loose him, along with the fly. He shrugged and set to sorting out his own rod, threading the line and then fitting the fly. Got it right first time. I patted his shoulder and told him good lad, and he smiled at me.

     I led him around the visitor centre and said to him, there, look at that.

     Llyn Brenig stretched before us, pearly grey under the clouds, pine trees blanketing the hills overlooking the water.

     Isn’t it beautiful?

     He was quiet for a while as he looked out over the water. I stayed quiet too, and still. I didn’t want to disturb him. I bit my lip, hoping he’d like it. And then he nodded.

     Yeah, yeah it is, he said.

     I’d forgotten to hire a boat so I went back to the front desk and hired one. When I returned I called the number to him and he ran off along the jetty. I shouted for him to be careful.

     With our bags and our rods we got into the boat, me first so I could hold it steady for him. I held out my hand but he didn’t take it. He was fine though. Good on his feet.

     I started her up, ripping the cord one-handed from the motor at the rear. I grunted like a strongman and it kicked up chugging on the second pull. Like that, I told him, grinning, and he grinned back. I asked him if he gets sea sickness. No? You’re like me, I said. I don’t get seasick either. Your mum does. Your mum gets seasick bad.

     I steered the boat out onto the water. It was calm, and the wind was still down. How about here? Here is fine.

     I took up my rod and demonstrated how to cast the line out, whipping it back and forth like a lion tamer. He said nothing but nodded a lot, and when he tried it he picked things up pretty quick. We fished for a while in silence. Mostly I closed my eyes, breathing in the open air and feeling the line through my wet fingers, listening to the water lap the hull.

     I had already described the feel of catching a fish. I told him how it was one of the most exciting experiences you could ever have. You would grow lax watching your line creep in with little jolts from your fingers. But when you felt something tug on the other end, your eyes would flare and you’d tremble, catch your breath for a second, feel that exhilarating rush of fear and ecstasy all balled into one. Then of course you’d get your head together and battle to bring it in.

     But neither of us felt anything. He even asked me if I was sure there were fish. I was sure. I told him so, told him how his granddad and I had caught a few between us last time. I don’t think he believed me. I kept checking his face after that. If he was bored he didn’t complain. He sat sending the fly out and jerking it back in again, while I encouraged him. That’s the way to do it. You’ve got it bang on. Keep going like that.

     Eventually he asked what we were doing for dinner. We fixed the lines to the rods and I got lunch out from the tackle bag. Do you like pork pies? Here, have a bag of crisps. There’s a Mars Bar for afters. You don’t drink coffee, do you? No, I thought you mightn’t, so I brought juice. Yeah, in there, the cartons are in the side pocket. Good lad. Just eat what you want.

     I sipped my coffee from the flask lid and watched him eat. Tidy, like his mother. No mess. I always got crumbs on my lips, ate with my mouth open. If someone pointed it out I’d shut it, but there weren’t many people to tell me so those days. The fellers at work didn’t care about things like that.

     We carried on fishing but I saw the sun would be setting soon. How much longer, he asked me, and I told him we would probably go on for just another hour--if that was alright with him? If he wanted to go any time, I told him to just say so.

     Sunset at Llyn Brenig turned the clouds to pink marble, the water to nectar. My attention to the rod waned considerably then. I didn’t want to fish any more. I just wanted to sit there, in that boat with my lad, and watch the sun making its slow way down, down behind the pine hills. I could have stayed like that for so long.

     But behind me he stood and began to shout, and I told him to stay calm and sit down. I’ve got one, he kept saying, I’ve got one. And I told him he was a great angler. Better than me. He tried to offer me the rod. He said you reel it in, dad, I can’t do it, I’ll loose it.

     And I said no, you do it. You’ll be fine, just hold it like this. Keep the line pointing away. But not too much. That’s right. That’s it.

     The fish was a beauty. Rainbow trout. I reckoned four or five pounds. When it had tired itself out I got the net.

     I think he was tired too, after straining to hold the rod high, and the fish rising to the surface and lashing with its tail, then powering deep again, then coming back up and cutting the water with its fins.

     When I’d killed it and had the plastic bag ready to wrap it up, he asked me what the hell that was at the back of the fish. I looked, and saw a bunch of thin twigs were sticking out from its rear end.

     And we began to giggle, wondering how those twigs had got there, whether they had gone in from the back or had been swallowed. We didn’t know, but soon our giggles turned to full blown laughter and we had to be careful not to rock the boat. If we’d been on land I think we would have rolled on the grass. We held our stomachs, then our faces, then our stomachs. We had no breath we were laughing so hard. I’ve never laughed like that before, and I’ve never seen him laugh so much as he did then.

     We landed back at the shore and fastened the boat to the jetty. In the car park our laughter drew the attention of the older, sombre fishermen, who came alone and gazed at us from their open car boots.

     We drove along the amber stretch of dark, empty road, and we didn’t have the radio on. We just kept talking about that fish, trying to think just how those twigs could have got up there. I said it looked dead sore. He said maybe it committed suicide on the hook. We laughed even harder.

     I pulled up in front of his mother’s house. Mum’s probably asleep but I’ve got a key, he said.

     I didn’t know how to say bye to a lad his age. A kiss on the cheek, was that weird? A handshake? But before I could do anything he leant forward in his seat and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, and I squeezed his neck and told him he was a good lad, and that I’m so proud of him, and all the fellers in work would hear about the fish and the twigs, and he said all his friends at school would hear about the fish and the day at Llyn Brenig. He asked if we could go fishing again sometime and I said yes, definitely sometime soon.
      



Richard Richard Bell lives (for now) and writes in Cheshire, UK. His stories have appeared in a number of print and electronic venues. Visit him at his lonely windswept cave of a blog: richard-bell.blogspot.com
 
 



Fishing for rainbow trout at Llyn Brenig, Wales, will always hold a special place in my childhood memories, though this story could well be the literary incarnation of my own fears of parental inadequacy. The piece took me just a few hours to write (excluding subsequent redrafting) and afterwards I sat down and called my father and spoke to him for a long while.

 





  


Copyright 2009