We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor; vast and titanic features, the seacoast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thundercloud, and the rain . . --Henry David Thoreau
The sun rises over the small distant town of Batooka, Maine. A young boy pulls a writhing earthworm from the confines of a rusty coffee can and attaches it to a shiny fishhook. Granite bluffs reach from the black water of the lake as a natural barrier.
The sky yields to encroaching light in great chunks and the surrounding town begins to wake. Blackbirds roosting in branches of an old birch tree preen and groom, observing the activity below of the young fisherman named, Gill Finn. The water within the lake, shifts and heaves as though taking its own breath. Stone old as earth itself litters the edge framing it in quartz glints.
There was rarely a time when one could not find Gill casting his bamboo pole into the depths of the Batooka Lake. It was formed thousands of years before Gill ever set foot on its stone banks.
He could smell it before he could see it, a mixture of damp mulch and pine, not far away were the steep bluffs of Batooka and the Atlantic Ocean. On quiet nights by the lake the distant roar of the surf could be heard. The Indians told stories of 'souls from old years' flying over the oceans of the world each one waiting to inherit a new being, patient as the tides drifting through centuries.
The water closest to the lake bank was choked with floating leaves and creaking branches reached out over water. Gill had just skewered another protesting earthworm upon a sharp hook.
He tossed the end of his line back into the water and ripple rings spread then flattened. Boy and birds studied the rings surrounding the fishing line drilling the smooth black water.
Theres breakfast said Gill. He bounced the rod, imagining the worm below enticing hungry fish. His moving trap concealed, and then, a thump and a pull. He pulled sharply on the rod. Line and shiny hook sprang from the lake and tethered themselves to the old birch.
Black birds took to the air in a haphazard pattern. Damn, was all that came to Gills mind and mouth.
He pulled a bone-handled jack knife from his pocket as he stood and felt a large wet circle on his rear-end afforded him by the damp lake bank.
He kicked at the rocky border as though it wore a smile and listened to himself reverberate from the opposing shore. He reached up and cut the tangled line. Dumb, stupid, idiot...fishing pole.
Gill remembered what his grandfather had told him. Its not the hammer its the carpenter.
Pulling the rod from the tree above he noticed a tangle of lures hooks and leaders tailed by weathered rigging. He stood watching rafters of light reach across the rocking water and he wondered what it felt like to breathe beneath it.
Legend hung below the surface of this old water in the form of the Anura, a large fish. The Indians had passed a legend through generations of a young brave having been bitten by the fish.
The Indian boy began to take on all the characteristics of a fish itself. The Abenaki Indians went on to declare his soul moved within all waters of the earth.
Gill simply wanted to catch that fish, the Anura occupied every waking wish, invading sleeping wishes as well.
Gills grandfather taught him many secrets of nature.
You see that little sugar ant heading down the gutter? He pointed an arthritic finger in the ants direction, the tip of which veered just enough so Gill was confused. I see the gutter but no ant, said Gill. Hes got a crumb from your mothers table. Sturgeon leaned in close enough so a finger's shadow crept over the insect.
Oh I see him now. Gill crouched close to the ant and the downspout as his grandfather withdrew his finger and cleared his throat.
Who gave you that haircut? Gill turned his head, squinting into the bright sun. Dad. Anyway, this fella with the crumb in his mouth is every bit as important as a one hundred foot blue whale. They keep everything in a fine balance, even making sure the kitchen table stays clean.
A yellow bee lit on a blossom then climbed into the flowers center.
Did you know its impossible for a honeybee to fly? The sugar ant continued its trip toward the ground as the bee backed out of the blossom and flew off. How come he just flew? Because he doesnt know he cant. He straightened up and cracked his back.
"The power of observation," Gill commanded himself as he stumbled over the stone bramble. He was through fishing this morning, forced into that position by lack of tackle and worms. It felt better if he made the decision. Besides he had schoolwork hed not even started yet.
?The world had awakened while he was gone. When he arrived at the place he'd parked his bike, it occurred to him how hungry he was. He was meant to fish and all else was a meddlesome encumbrance. To keep his mind on this preponderance, Gill maintained an aquarium in his bedroom from where he could study his prey.?He smelled coffee brewing and bacon cooking as he peddled through the little town. He liked being awake early, he didnt have much to show for it today, but he felt the worst was behind him at least for a few hours. He walked his bike into the garage plugging it into a corner by stacks of abandoned aquariums. They rose around him as dusty glass columns and he imagined them homes to all the species of fish in the world.
Gills grandfather had owned and operated a fish hatchery years ago, the Batooka Fish and Game Commission was now the owner and Gills father, Shad ran it.
Gill wandered into the kitchen from the garage surprising his mother who was sitting at the table sifting through the mail. Hello, Gill, she said as her hand wrapped around his wrist and drew him toward her.
What did you catch? she asked. I cleaned out the lake. He laughed and shoved a warm chocolate chip cookie into his mouth. Homework?
All finished. May I see it, please? asked Rainbow, corralling him with her eyes. When I finish it, answered Gill.
"I want your homework done before you go fishing. Does my head look like a mushroom? No, and dont change the subject. All the kids at school call me mushroom head. Gill?"
"Homework before fishing, he muttered. Dont you worry about those kids at school.
School was okay but it was one of those frustrating formalities. Gill deemed fishing one of the least expensive lifestyles, worms were free. His father was a hard working man who loved his family more than anything on the terrestrial sphere, as he put it. The Finn house was a little white cape with an attached garage to harbor all thingsfish. It was filled with aquariums of all shapes and sizes and one was home to Happy and Mirth, two Perch his father had brought home from the hatchery.
Gill had a five-gallon aquarium in his bedroom hosting a family of Neon Tetras. They traveled in a tight school, turning at the exact moment as one another in a brilliant display of bright color. Gill wondered how they knew to turn at the same time, it seemed they were splinters of the same mind.
It was mid-fall the days were getting shorter and he still had no luck at the lake. Gill slammed his notebook shut and spied the whale clock on the edge of his desk. There were four more hours of daylight, plenty of time to fish. He jumped down the stairs and burst into the kitchen.
Hey, Mom? He spun around in the empty kitchen and saw a recipe card leaning against the salt and pepper shakers.
'I am in the basement. See me before you leave.'
One more hurdle. Hey, Mom? he yelled into the abyss. Is it finished? came her question from the dark.
Its on my desk whenever youre ready. Im going to Grandpas. He backed away from the questioning. And, then where?
Maybe a little fishing.
Rainbow appeared at the foot of the stairs.
Don't be home late, tell Grandpa hello and bring him some cookies. Her words echoed to the basement as she returned to her work.
He wrapped four cookies into a paper napkin and shoved them into his bulging knapsack. He entered the garage and dropped his rod into a tube attached to his bicycle. He knelt and pulled open the garage door as late sun rushed in.
Gill climbed aboard his bike and the weight of his knapsack nearly carried him over the other side. Leaves swirled in tight circles as they fell through the air, they crunched beneath his tires and the sound blended at once with an engine.
His father guided an old pickup truck toward the garage and Gill loved the tires crunching on the shell driveway. It came to a stop as the front tires skidded, the silent engine began to tick and pop. His father ran around to the front of the green truck.
Have you fed Mirth and Happy? Before school. Theyre getting big, Pop. Shad studied the steam curling from beneath the trucks hood. Yeah, ten gallons is their universe? said Shad, releasing the hood latch. Will we let them go before winter? asked Gill, balancing his bike and knapsack. Either that or well have to fill the garage with water. Where're you off to? Im heading to Grandpas, then do a little fishing.
Treat those fishes with respect, one of them could be an aunt or uncle, you know. He pushed up the hood and waved off the steam. Tell Grand-pop hey.
He smiled over a shoulder and reached down to twist off the radiator cap.
Gill pushed off down the street.
Gill's grandfather lived on the edge of town in an old Airstream trailer. His father said it looked like an 'airplane without wings'. Gill rolled up noisily through a growing carpet of leaves, leaning his bicycle against a handrail. He wiped his nose and climbed three pine stairs attached to the trailer.
He rapped on the door and looked at his misshapen reflection in the brushed aluminum. The trailer looked more like a 'submarine with wheels' he thought. Grandpa, open up!
Gill knocked harder and watched his reflection twist and bounce. Canadian geese sounded off high above his head and he shook with a quick chill. He felt pressure across the top of his head and then tightening around his ankles, he tried to bring his arms up but couldnt.
Gotcha. Sturgeon laughed, holding on to the end of a rope attached to the casting net. He was standing by a folding lawn chair beneath a spindly dogwood. Gill flipped the fine plastic mesh up and over his head. Im going down to the lake, wanna go? asked Gill as he descended the stairs. He tried to pretend this trap hadnt worked so well.
Sturgeon smiled and looped the slack line across an open palm as he moved toward Gill. Gill squinted, cocking his head. I brought you some chocolate chips, Mom just made them.
He hauled his backpack around and dropped it to the ground. Boy and grandfather stood and stared at one another for a good while as the wind stirred the trees. Grandpa how long can whales live? asked Gill.
Oh, some whales can live over two hundred years. Gill stopped chewing for a moment, contemplating. Do they ever know how old they are? The dogwood tree lost more leaves as a sudden breeze kicked up. How deep is the ocean?
His grandfather eyed him while picking at a tooth with a pinky nail. He bent over and picked up a skinny branch. He cleared a small area near the base of the tree. There is a place in the Pacific Ocean called the Mariana Trench, its over eleven miles deep, that's deeper than Mt. Everest is tall."
What ever happened to Grandma?
He focused on his grandfathers eyes and swallowed what remained of his cookie. Your Grandma Goby died during the birth of our only child, your dad. Gill pulled his knapsack back over his shoulders.
I dont want you to feel bad, said Gill. He took his Grandfathers hand as it was offered. Those are thoughts of mirth, boy, he said as a smile bloomed. I see her in sunrises and sunsets, and everywhere in between. Whats mirth, Grandpa? asked Gill. Mirth? Mirth is happy. Now you go and catch a fish.
On a warm afternoon Gill was helplessly led into the cold lake murk, up to his knees now he was too weak to reel, while beneath, the other side sensed control. He imagined a dragon in the book about the Loch Ness monster, a king in charge of its universe.
The Anura sensed a change in the tension of the monofilament, it swam toward the drag and the pain eased, then it slashed toward deeper water. The big fish tore through invisible bands of alternating temperature, gill plates pulsed processing and burning oxygen. The monofilament was dragged across submerged pine, bark peeled and exploded as it tried to split the harness.
An audience of Perch hung in the dark and glints of quartz twinkled as stars in the deep pitch. The tension began to rip away at Gill's arms. He felt dizzy and small, confused by the fight the thing below him could afford. The sun seared his neck as pine cones and eelgrass bumped and wrapped his legs. He looked into the black water again imagining himself down there.
Gill wanted to be anywhere away from this pain, the cicadas were deafening. The birds in the tree were silent as though contribution to quiet was their policy for this day. He knew those hands were his own but he could not feel their grip. Another tug sent him to his knees, cold water gripped his chest and he jumped back to his feet drawing the slack line. Dorsal spines broke and raked the surface. Again, the fish dove hard leaving only a lazy swirl not ten feet from where Gill now stood. The line zigzagged across the Penn spool and Gill wished he had taken better care of it. His fingers where sheet white and numb, the insides of his forearms burned as the wind cut a chill through him.
He wanted to walk away from this it was making him sick. The sunlight popped and exploded on the lake's surface. In an instant the fish reappeared and for the first time Gill saw its bright gold eyes. It kept steady pressure on the tackle, the birds quit their silence and the sun fell behind low clouds.
The Anura disappeared.
He was hit hard in the chest, the one-ounce lead struck him like a
hammer knocking him to the stony shore. The line had snapped.
The returning sun was hot, Gill folded his arms over his eyes. He admired this fish, he liked it as a friend, he could not explain this or the smile on his face. If his grandfather had been watching him Gill imagined he would be proud. The grass was hot against his face and the bamboo fish pole lay next to him as a skinny faithful friend. Gills thoughts raced below the surface where everything was silent.
He wanted to be there in the silence.
One Year Later...
Gill Finn was up earlier than usual on this Monday morning he was older now and stronger. He tapped the container of dry fish food and watched it spread across the surface. Gill noticed a tiny group of babies hiding in the nursery grass, they were born live knowing instinctively to stay away from the adults.
Clicking on the aquarium light he found the tiny Tetras anxious that food was on its way, Gill pushed the grass under the light. Occupying the larger fish with food he dropped a tiny pinch over the watchful juniors.
There was a teachers meeting at school and he had all day to fish. As he crunched through his cereal he saw a note wedged between the picnic shakers.
'Gill, dont forget to be home by five. You have an appointment with Dr. Snook. Have fun. Love, Mom.'
At least he'd dug his earthworms the night before. The sun was knifing through the morning darkness and Gill heard his parents alarm clock as he entered the garage.
'Fish are people too.'
There was just enough light to read the bumper sticker on his fathers truck. He picked up his tackle box and lifted the soft plastic lid of the worm can, a large writhing knot appeared.
Aquarium pumps bubbled around him. Happy and Mirth hung in their watery cage working mouths resuscitating themselves. Gill had moved them to a larger aquarium. He liked the two of them, the guardians of the garage and that thought made him laugh.
The Perch peered at him with one eye then changed direction spying with the other. A moth flew from a dark corner hitting Gill between the eyes. He pulled the garage door open and swung aboard his bicycle. Tires crunched the shell drive the birds greeted him and a dog howled.
The first of the ragged mahoganies appeared in the distance and the damp licorice fetor lured him along. He drew a deep breath of cool new air and the lake entered his lungs.
Doctor Snook was a kind old man close to ninety years-old, he'd brought Shad into the world and was there to assist Gills birth. He ambled with a hickory cane often mumbling to himself. Hed ask himself questions and quickly answer them.
'Thats what well do then.' His practice was out of his home with an examination room he called the "sunroom." It had a large oak door with a brass knob and matching key below it. Whenever Doctor Snook entered this room the heavy key would knock sluggishly against the key plate.
'Come in, Doctor, come in', he'd say to himself.
The 'observation room' was not a big room. White enameled cabinets occupied three-quarters of the wall space, their pitted metal pulls were loose and most the doors would not stay closed. There was a gurney in the corner near a large double window. Also present, a life-sized human skeleton named, 'Jack'. Various documents hung along a divider each frame containing insects trapped between glass and paper.
Doctor Snook was a widower his wife having passed twenty-years ago, Fourth of July weekend. She was an excellent swimmer and swam the lake many times.
That day, Blue had gone the distance three times, swimming most the way under water. Impressing the family shed pushed off, calling back to the children. Dropping beneath the surface there was nothing left but slippery black swirls, the spectators vicariously joining her beneath. One by one everyone exhaled and inhaled. Suddenly she appeared, a tiny head on the far shore waving to the cheers.
To himself, Doctor Snook was apprehensive of her swimming within the lake, he couldn't explain it even to himself. The Atlantic ocean seemed for some reason a more benevolent host than the lake. To the doctor the lake had imprinted him as a representation of a womb. It was
not necessarily a bad thing, but more a maternal intermediary that had taken up with antiquity, and who was he to question this intuition? Conversely, who was he to share the same observation without concerning others of his own mental stability?
She dove, slipping quickly beneath the surface.
Five minutes later she remained under water and after ten more the wind picked up, a great shift seemed to move the sky. Clouds shrouded the falling sun and the childrens lips purpled. Hands clenched and shivering, they stood barefoot scanning the choppy water.
Light fell behind stone and trees casting long fingers of shadow. For the first time in his life the doctor felt entirely helpless. The lake convulsed and granite shoulders turned dark, this day had turned on him. The children began to cry as the adults looked to one another for verification.
She had simply disappeared and by this time it was as though she had never been.
Years ago one Fathers Day, Sturgeon took Shad out to the lake. As far back as his memory could take him he'd only ever fished from the stone shore. Content to pull a Perch or an occasional Sunfish from the Batooka, Shad had already graduated to the water within his mind. He saw himself in the boat many times before that day would eventually arrive. He felt its lolly and roll beneath his feet, the pull of the oars and the gliding freedom across the water. And when that day met his reality it had dressed itself in all combinations of his memory. He was finally old enough to fish from the boat, he felt different, but just the way he knew he would.
The day was perfect sunny and warm. Shad studied the water and the way the birds stopped then returned to their chatter. He'd tried to imagine the world beneath the lake, the ocean so vast and powerful reaching around the entire planet, a living breathing sea world within another. There was a portion of his young life he'd never known enough to miss. Shad's mother had died the morning he was born, two souls passing through the same door as his father had remembered it.
He was happy to be here now.
The familiar sound of a hooked fish, Sturgeon's reel buzzed to life reminding Shad of a bee in a can. His father froze as if recognizing an old friend, a butterfly came to rest on this strange perch in the middle of the lake. He looked to the sky, exploding clouds drifted in an upside-down river and all the sounds of summer ceased.
The butterfly joined drifting currents and Shad wondered where the fish had gone. Time rushed by in an abnormal hurry. Orange light lit tears on his fathers face as his eyes closed.Shad watched the skynot quite understandingbut not wanting this moment to end. The rod nearly flipped from Sturgeons hand as the fish, sun, and sounds of summer returned. Sturgeon landed the fish and it flopped wildly spraying strands of ooze across Shads arms.
His father pulled a hammer from the tackle box. The fish threw itself against the dory's interior, the rigid leader protruded at an odd angle and bright blood twisted along the stainless strands. Its gill plates pulsed strangling, unable to process oxygen. Sturgeon beat the Anura until it began to convulse. Two distinct marks appeared just below the fish's gills resembling the number 8.He dropped the hammer trying to control his breathing, the lake gently rocking the boat in a faithful cadence.?Shad was dizzy, stunned and surprised all at the same time.
Sturgeon pulled the hook and looked toward Shad. Tears rode his cheeks and he felt conflicted sorrow for the boy.
He picked up the fish and lowered it into the dark water, it floated backward and unnatural. The beech trees along the shore glistened, their leaves flickering as shiny coins.
Im sorry, said Sturgeon, to the fish.
Shad looked over the gunwale at his own reflection, a single tear drop sent ripple-rings out from were it landed. Then he saw her smiling back from his reflection in water dark as burnt oil.
Wavelets pushed out below him and the gills of the young fish opened and closed reminding him of the butterfly. Wider and more pronounced their action until the fish righted itself and disappeared below.
Gills Day Off
The Anura circled beneath the surface of the Batooka Lake bolting past a little brown trout.?Water had been here since possibly the last scour of an ice age 40,000 years ago. The pooling meltwater filled scissored wedges of black granite and life began to emerge within this massive trench.
Sensors exposed a food source, faint and confused it doubled back.
It plummeted through a thermocline regrouping while forcing water through gill plates.The fish was deliberate but annoyed at the reversal of typical circumstance, it cruised processing gauging and winding back through its practiced progressions.
Returning almost immediately, the fish inhaled the hook, worm, and eight inches of stainless leader, it flushed its head, simultaneously chewing and spitting.
Tension left the rod and he was thankful hed asked his father to borrow it. The graphite shaft was strong and responsive, Gill adjusted the drag, the bale clicked and slowly he began to reel. The crickets were loud.
Squirrels went about their routine in the mahoganies and clouds hovered against a blue infinity. The lake water was cold against his aching knees and the rubber leggings did little to insulate.
This fish had gotten lucky and worked itself free, he had plenty of worms. The temperature had suddenly dropped and Gill felt the day had decided not to be so friendly. A woolly bear caterpillar ambled along the gravel near Gills feet, it looked lost. The gravel beneath his feet gave way and he nearly fell. Trees on the far shore showed their leaves inside out as the convection flushed through them.
Again, the Anura rolled and cruised toward the bottom, the hook confused the fish with pain and taste of its own blood. It crashed through a formation of stone caverns making sharp violent turns, the hook drove to bone. On the surface near the lakes edge a red-legged grasshopper slipped from a blade of razor grass and was devoured by a lucky Pickerel.
Thunder clapped and a knifing breeze rifled feathers of the black birds in the birch.
Gill pulled on the rod reeling at the same time, his head ached and he studied his hands.
Lightning lit the granite walls across the lake as thunder thumped in the sky. He was drenched from the inside out, Gill balanced between a shiver and sting of salt in his eyes. For the first time he noticed the sun had left the sky.
Cold drops of rain slapped the back of his neck and razed the lake's surface.
The Anuras body broke the surface, Gill was amazed at the size and beauty of this fish. Sheets of downpour advanced and the granite walls of the lake seemed to float. Its heavy body bumped against his boots the white underbelly ran aground.
He knelt and the crushed rock poked back at his knees, using a free hand he held the leader away from the fish's mouth.The hook was too deep and Gill dragged the fish toward the shore. He cut the leader adjoining the monofilament, lunging to keep his balance. Muscle twisted beneath his hands. Dorsal spines pierced his hand and he yelped only slightly as surprise held most his voice. The fish pounded the stone with its bulk and was gone.
Hours later Gill and his mother sat beside each other in silence, Gills hand throbbed. Rainbow wrung the steering wheel and contemplated her anger.?They were late for Gill's appointment.?In her periphery she saw Gill studying her.She looked at him and he made no attempt to avert his eyes.
"I'm sorry Mom."
Theyre clear as a glass of water.
Doctor Snook peered into Gills right eye with his hand held instrument. How did they get in there? asked Gill, watching the magnified eye of Doctor Snook studying his own. You were born with them, said the doctor laughing to himself.
I mean the bugs. How did they get into the letters? His pupil constricted opposing the flood of light applied to its center. Gill spied the various species of bugs trapped between glass and framed documents. Well I suppose the secret died with the little sons of bitches.
Gill smiled on the other side of the large magnifying glass. Doctor Snook set the glass on a metal table top then took Gill's forearm in his hand. Who is Mister Limpet? asked Gill as the doctor thumbed a vein. Mister Limpet was the name of a man who turned into a fish. And he unplugged the stethoscope from his ears and smiled.
Rainbow was in the pine-paneled waiting room reading a magazine. In one corner there was an old grandfather clock, Gill had asked her once why they called it a 'grandfather. If she did not know the answer to a question she would tell him to stop asking questions. She knew that he knew this and it made her smile.
Gill had been in the examination room now for nearly half an hour.
The clock kept a steady tock, tock, but no tick, and she thought it odd. On an end table was a large green Chianti bottle containing a sailboat. "Mr. Limpet" was imprinted on its dusty transom.
The doctor handed Gill a lolly pop which he promptly unwrapped as they exited the room. Well Mrs. Finn, you havent a thing to worry about.
Before she could speak Doctor Snook stopped and pulled the large glasses from his head.
Gill received a mildly toxic venom from the fish." Gill started his candy as the doctor began on his own and Rainbow smiled.?
Outside, they sat for a moment in silence, then Rainbow eased the car onto the avenue. Hows your hand? she asked keeping her eyes fixed to the road. Its okay.
She felt his eyes. You were late today.
Rainbow took her eyes from the road to gauge him. He was beautiful. Who was he, Gill? He looked down at his hands as they came to a stoplight. Gill shifted in his seat looking toward the sky. Something changed, Mom.
His voice seemed to run out of air. There was mirth, he said and returned to the window.
They pulled into the shell drive at precisely the same time as Shad. Dusk cloaked the three as they entered the garage, Shad slowed, dropping fish food to Mirth and Happy who dashed to the surface of their twenty-gallon world.
The fish story was repeated during dinner, Rainbow and Shad let Gill ramble through every detail.
Shad carried the sleeping Gill to his bedroom. The aquarium filter hummed and the night hunters found the young hiding in the nursery grass.
Gill woke beneath the water.
It was dark cool and he held his breath. He looked up through a trellis of rippling light and began to panic. His legs were bound at the ankles he flailed his arms his lungs ached. Unable to hold his breath any longer he opened his mouth. Water entered then flushed along his shoulders he was infused with fresh oxygen completely tuned to the atmosphere he was suspended within and he began to move effortlessly.
It was perfect and easy no school and no doctors.
Amazingly he was breathing beneath the water he kicked with his legs as a singular extremity. He was hungry and he could taste with his entire being. In an instant he faced the Anura, light shone against armored skin and it was gone.
Gill bolted upright in his bed.
His pajamas were soaked through. When he was there it felt comfortable, as though he were a king.
In the morning he found the baby Tetras gone.
I was breathing under the water. He bobbed his head side to side speaking through swallows of cereal. Rainbow stood at the sink rinsing dishes.Gill? Yeah, mom? She heard the spoon stop its digging within the ceramic and turned to face him. Could you please pull the peach baskets down from the loft?
Gill went back to work on his cereal. Uh oh, winter, said Gill. He began swimming through mythic water. Well Im always late and this year will be different. She pushed coffee mugs into the cupboard.
Gill focused for a moment.
Maybe Im not just a boy anymore. The wind pushed the slightest bleet of cold air through the sill and it caught her attention. The wash water had itself become cold and Rainbow listened to Gill repeat his dream. A fat chipmunk foraged through the dense Bermuda grass in the backyard, the brown turf seemed to fight back at its insistent digging.
Gills spoon rattled the inside of the red bowl as he described swimming and breathing under water.Rainbow watched leaves scatter like confetti across the expanse of the back yard.
A large yellow cat pounced on the chipmunk. Rainbow was shocked by how quickly blood appeared. She felt matted the cats jaw and it lapped at the air, the chipmunk panted and bled as leaves tumbled by.
Wind gusts were strong enough to bend grass swaths and ruffle fur. The cat sat on its haunches licking whiskers, then loped off leaving the chipmunk in a heap.She turned from the window, Gill sat quietly, a bran flake stuck to his chin.
Gill, dont eat so much ice cream before bed, escaped from her mouth before she knew it had. He smiled back at her punctuating the response by dropping his spoon into the bowl. He pushed himself from the table and bounced up the stairs.
You scream I scream we all scream for ice cream. He sang until stifling himself with his own toothbrush. The cat had returned picking up the chipmunk and retreating beneath the laurel.
Gill surprised her as he raced by. Kiss? He spun around. Yep, and he hung his arms around her neck. She looked into his eyes and they smiled back. Weak sun twisted beneath the curtains in the kitchen.
She kissed his warm forehead and let him go. He knelt and retrieved his book bag from the window bench. Bye, Mom. The door slammed and the quiet marched back in.
Gills head felt hot as he rode the bus. Staring out the window he watched trees rush by the other children chattered into a blend Gill clenched his hand feeling pain. Ouch, he whispered.
Shad guided the old truck into his fathers dirt driveway and came to an abrupt stop. Within the stir of dust he listened to the wind and settling engine. Blue Jays fought somewhere and the door latch popped and sprung.
Pushing open the door, Shad watched his feet touch down. Feeling the uneven stepping stones beneath he remembered the July his father put the foot walk in. Now, twenty-two falls later and many leaves since Shad grinned as he climbed the leaning island of stairs.
Hey Pop, you up? He tapped two knuckles against the battered door.
Shad spun around and caught him sitting in a lawn chair near the dogwood. He looked older today, grayer. Shad ambled back through the ankle deep crunch. When are you gonna start on these leaves?
He extended a hand. I think my sink leaks. He grabbed Shads arm and pulled himself from the chair.
They climbed the stairs to the trailer.
Shad paused by a picture near the door, he could see his eyes in her's, his smile. What do you think about staying with us this winter? He put his hands into his pockets, staring at his mother's photo.
It's a bad gasket. Sturgeon twisted the sink faucet back and forth.
Well I told Rainbow Id ask. Shad leaned in closer to the picture then backed away into the center of the trailer. He flicked a make-believe fly rod in the middle of the living room. If I run out of water I'll call. How's Gill? Sturgeon gulped the last of his cold tea. "Youre getting older, Pop. "The whole world gets older," said Sturgeon as he rinsed his cup. Shad felt awkward, he turned and nudged a chair. I like this, said Sturgeon.He clanked inside the aluminum sink and the trailer rocked nearly imperceptibly. Shad scratched his head and put his hands on his hips.
Sturgeon knelt beneath the sink-top, the light cut across his rounding shoulders.
He was halfway under the sink behind a creaking metal door. Gill has school and a doctors appointment. With Snook? asked Sturgeon, as he slapped the metal door closed and slowly stood. Whats wrong with Snook? Nothings wrong with Snook, I just didnt know he was still alive.
Sturgeon pulled at a cobweb in the window over the sink. He brought you around." Then he picked up a hand towel and neatly folded it into thirds. Are you teaching me how to fold laundry? Im trying to get up the nerve to tell my son I love him.
The gatherers were busy gathering because the seasons and the years cannot be stopped.? ?
Sturgeon sipped his tea and watched the sun rise, muddled fog roped the tops of mahoganies near the lake and squirrels clucked. Frost bristled the tips of most leaves on the ground and Sturgeon felt comfortable in his aluminum home.
He moved to his favorite chair and lowered himself slowly into its familiar cradle. He saw his wife on the wall as he did every morning young and alive.
Only today was different from all the others. A delicate silence wove itself into the morning.
New light peeled across Sturgeons body and warmed him, its focus widened and probed the interior. Prisms of light exposed the old Shakespeare and the reel spun like a tumbling diamond.
He smirked and put his tea on the table and a most convincing feeling of weightlessness enveloped him.
Passing through the kitchen Shad stalled by the little window over the sink. Outside near the foundation laurel Rainbow flipped a peach basket covering the bandy laurels. Shirt sleeves piled over leather gloves and she appeared as a child.
He left the window. Shad found himself outside, he helped Rainbow to her feet and together they stumbled toward the house. Gill, puzzled, watched them from the garage. Happy and Mirth cruised in yellowed water and he wondered if there was a chance for Indian summer.
Beneath the laurel a wind gust rippled the little pile of brown fur and bones.
Rainbow collapsed into an armchair as fire roared in the hearth.
Gill trailed into the kitchen and stopped by the sink then crossed to the living room. Im fine, it was just something outside and everything that is. She stopped herself and rested her head against the chair back. Shad pushed a thumb guiding an errant strand of hair around and behind her ear.
The phone rang and he started down the hall, his footfalls the only sound in a vacuum. Im scared, said Gill in a hurried shake and his eyes bore into the kitchen.
In Rainbow's belly, butterflies came in gangs.
She pulled Gill close. Shad spoke in muted murmur and the fire gobbled the oak in a loud shower of popping. The phone returned to its cradle in a defining hurry and Shad reappeared.
His mother blurred quickly behind tears. The words reminded Gill of walking across ice in a winter dream, tick and crack and he plunged into the hush-hush crystal cold.
Grandpa Sturgeon was buried in the Hillside Cemetery on a cold dark day. Gill thought it proper for the sky to be sad too, he imagined the sun hid from sad days waiting for a time when smiles would return. He wore penny-loafers that hurt his feet and a blue suit that had not fit him for two years. Gill did not cry and it concerned him because this seemed to be the place and time to do it. Tree branches reached over his head like craggy claws serving as perch for two black crows. The birds were silent.
Father Paul spoke in a shrill voice, unnatural, but honest. Do not stand at his grave and cry, he is not there, he did not die. He is in a thousand winds that blow, he is the diamond glints on flakes of snow.
His voice high, then small, and all Gill could think of was Happy and Mirth within their aquarium. Grandpa would have hated this, he said
crying was a waste of water. His mother cried but his father did not, he only looked confused and bothered. Gill knew his father was trying to fix things in his mind, to put things back the way they were. This he could understand because people seem to be the only ones that did such a thing. He had seen a dog with three legs and it was just as happy as though it had four, it wasn't sorry for itself. Humans were sorry for losing things, especially one of their own. Gill was sorry his grandfather wasn't here, but he never believed he was truly gone as long as he lived inside his thoughts.
It was dark when they arrived home. The three exited the truck into the cold, Rainbow was first to the garage door. Once inside, Gill dropped some pellets to Happy and Mirth and they seemed genuinely happy for the food and company. All the things familiar returned to him here at home in the dark of the garage. It was an unexplainable communal comfort and Gill welcomed the warmth of his home as he entered.
Shad removed his overcoat and hung it by the garage, he'd remained silent during the short ride home and both Rainbow and Gill had allowed him that space. Rainbow entered the living room and placed fresh firewood amongst the remaining embers. She coaxed small flame with the bellows. Gill stood between the kitchen and living room still pinched within his suit and overcoat. He watched his father leave through the backdoor without his jacket. Gill went to the door as Rainbow came up behind him and slipped outside. In the dark in the snow Shad collapsed to his knees.
Three Months later. . .
Early one morning in mid-January Gill sat up in his bed and listened to the soft purr of the aquarium pump. The Tetras followed one another in close formation, an instinctive discipline. He wondered how they never seemed to tire or close their eyes. They never argued or grew weary of one another's company.
He was also confused by their cannibalism.
He climbed out of bed and walked to his desk. Through the window to the east, a bright orange sun breached the horizon and another inevitable day climbed into existence. The early light branded his face and he watched a flock of Canadian Geese on their way to the lake. Morning mist hung against the treetops and just a few leaves twisted on listless current. Gill slid the window a crack and took in the new air. He crossed the bedroom and ticked the aquarium light. One of the little Tetras was pregnant again and that made Gill smile. They flitted toward the light then down along the emerald sand like tiny finned birds.
Gill walked quietly to the bathroom and knelt by the big white tub. His tongue seemed too fat for his mouth. Slowly he turned the big spider knobs taking the temperature running it over the underside of his wrists. The water plunged filling the tub quickly and he watched his reflection pitch and drop.
The deep tub was brimming reminding Gill of the large breeding tanks at the hatchery.
He slinked from his pajamas and stepped into the tub.
The water was warm and right.
Gill drew a deep breath and crouched below the surface. He hung for a while suspended in the heavy shift of quiet. His heart beat inside his ears and memories ran through his mind.He could no longer hold his breath his chest was on fire. He opened
his eyes to everything white and bright, warm bath water rolled into his open mouth and filled his lungs. He closed his eyes and flew.
Gill Finn began to breathe beneath the water.
Discovery. . .
Sunday night the water ran forcefully as a muted thud. Rainbow drew Gills bath, she sat at the edge of the tub staring into the swirl of water. Steam rose and warmed her face, she felt safe in this sluggish atmosphere.
Gill, your bath is ready, she called through the steam. Almost immediately he came padding down the hall. Rainbow ran the tips of her fingers through his hair as he passed. She thought of camping under the old Bahia Honda bridge in the Florida Keys and the warm sand of Purple Island. Descending the stairs, the phone rang as she reached the landing.
Shad would be late.
She began to sift through the mail. Plodding toward the comfort of the big couch, she stopped at the throat of the fireplace, the brick now cold and foreign. Her eyelids became heavy.
She could hear the gusting wind rattle loose shutters, pellets of ice bounced off windows in loud waves.
Combining junk mail and newspaper, she started a fire.
And then it stopped.
Gill was face down in the tub. She opened her mouth and pushed with her lungs, nothing emerged but a tangle. Gill hung there in the water like the garage perch. Stunned was she as the steam inside the room seemed to have grown. She began to panic. Rainbow seemed to be outside herself as she heard her own scream. Gills head snapped from the water, their eyes met in the hot silence. He spit, after bath water had exited his mouth in a small torrent.
Dont be afraid, Mom. I can breathe under water.
So do we buy him an aquarium? Put him in the lake?" She began laughing and then she cried. Rainbow confused herself. Shad gathered her, he searched for a soothing anecdote. Her hands shook and it scared him. The indifferent world went on outside the kitchen window. Her tears fell to his naked forearm. He struggled to make words come from himself.
He laughed and didn't know why. It was a coping mechanism he'd used since he was a young boy. He didn't feel like laughing but the laugh had escaped before he could consider it. Rainbow peaked up at him as she pushed a tissue to her nose and blew into it.
Well, we should wait until he finishes this cycle of antibiotics. Outside, the shutters rapped a soft rhythm increasing with the volume of the wind. "I think it might be bigger than that." "Well?" And that was all Shad could think to say while his mind scrambled to straighten itself. Okay. But, what if hes turning into something? "Something like an animal?" And Shad had trouble allowing himself to say that. "What if he never comes back?" "From where?" "From wanting to live in the water, Shad. From turning into something." "A fish?" He also struggled with this but somehow like his laughing, it found its way there. "Something that isn't just a little boy."
Rainbow blew her nose again and dabbed her eyes. He could tell she was thinking about anything but this, just as he.
"Maybe hes just holding his breath.
One week later, Shad asked Gill to show him how he did it. How do you get the water out? Gill opened his mouth and squeezed both elbows against his diaphragm. There was a loud guttural hiss. It reminded Shad of the pumps in the hatchery just before priming.
Gill stepped into the tub. He trembled a bit, he felt like he had wings, but he was unsure how they may work. He remembered back to the first time he'd asked his father to take the training wheels from his bicycle. He didn't crash. In the distance he could hear his father yelling to him. "Peddle, peddle Gill!" Just as though he'd known all along.
Then words came from Shad before he knew they were his own. Gill, why dont we wait?
Gill was under water.
Shad watched his son open and close his mouth. He smiled. His own reflection rippled back across the water.
It felt like it should feel. Magically menacing. Rainbow appeared at the door of the bathroom.
What are you doing? Hes okay.
Residual water-fill backed from his mouth. They turned their attention to him. His voice sounded deeper. He coughed. Ive always been different." Gills body was shiny and wet. His hands shook as he knelt there in the tub.
The doctor greeted them at the front door and the sterile odor of alcohol and cedar stood with him. It had begun to snow and the first flakes drifted slowly toward their targets.
How are you folks and how is the fishing? He ushered the three of them from the foyer, hurrying around them as a sheep dog gathering like you all to step inside and well get started immediately. I have so many questions to ask this afternoon. Im very excited about this examination.
He again corralled them with outstretched arms, plowing the three into the exam room. He closed the big oak door behind them, the key swinging and clanking from its tether.
Thats what well do then, said the doctor.
Gill looked up over the desk at the documents framed on the wall. The bugs were gone and the glass was cleaned. The doctor studied him. I had Gloriette take them down last week and give those interlopers a proper burial.
He winked and reflected. He then turned and ushered Gill to a stool and Jack, the hanging skeleton. Rainbow and Shad sat near Gill on the Snook walked across the office, hands clasped behind his back. He turned around adjusting his crooked bow tie with both hands leaving it worse than before.?What ever made you think you could breathe under the water, Gill?
Gill looked at his parents and squirmed a bit on the padded stool. This was a time when hed escape to his mind, but he had prepared himself for now. He looked back at the doctor whose eyes looked immense behind his thick lenses.
I dreamed about it. Gill looked into the big eyes studying him. But I could never really do it.. He looked to his parents.
The feeling was a weightless spin as falling in a dream. Doctor Snook closed the distance between them. What, Gill? Until that day at the lake.
But the Anura venom is mildly toxic.
The snow outside could be seen intensifying through the venetian blinds. Gill bumped Jack's skeletal hip and the human mobile twisted facing him as though waiting for his own answer.
Do you see? Doctor Snook let what he was about to say arrange itself within his mind. Coincidentally all of us do this before we are born. "Do what?"asked Rainbow. "Breath beneath the water." He turned and walked back across the room running fingers through what was left of his hair. He laughed once and turned to face his audience. Gill just never stopped wanting to return to the water. Laughing again he punched both hands into the big pockets of his white coat.
Shad cleared his throat as he stood and took a few steps.
So in other words, Gill has been able to breathe under water his entire life? He is evolution. All those snow flakes out there, why are no two alike? Gill? asked Rainbow.
The doctor scissored fingers between the blinds and spied the falling snow. He nodded and waved his hand as he turned back to face them.
He isnt the first. There are more like me? Gill, there could be an entire universe like you? The doctor ambled over and sat on top of his desk, he took his glasses off and slid them into his shirt pocket. He rubbed his now smaller eyes and smiled then returned his ponder to the three across from him. Shad walked back and sat beside Rainbow.
Gills being spined created an impetus, a belief he could breathe beneath water. He could have since birth, we are not supposed to be conscious of this, society demands change through programming.
The doctor replaced his glasses.
He lives for the water since birth to the air. He does nothing but dream of the oceans and life in the water. We've all been part and party to this change."
The doctor's head began to shake.
Shad again got to his feet. Where does Gill go from here?
The doctor nodded. Whats more important, Gill Finn carries the genetic code that will take his species to the next stage of evolution. "He's just a boy," said Rainbow "This was a plan formed many thousands of years ago, from a source we are not privy to."
He blinked twice and went on.
This is nothing short of a variation over the prior biological model. Not so coincidentally, human embryos pass through a hierarchy, fish, reptile, mammal during gestation.
Doctor Snook exhaled with a groan and he could not help his grin. Belief is simply a wish about to come true.
Wind and snow buffeted the windows. Thats just the way he was made.
Gill climbed into bed that night after placing nursery grass into his aquarium. Sleep arrived in a green wave, the rhythmic static of the surf came to him, sunlight warmed his face along the sand of a dream-beach. He slowly made his way into the emerald water up to his chin and over his nose. Opening his mouth the warm water filled his
lungs, rejuvenation took him and the dark smudge of shore was far behind.Below, the sandy bottom appeared, Happy and Mirth were there.
He drifted in the current. Gill felt a returning to the same, a continuance.There was movement, a sudden separation amidst the expanse. He hung, suspended from the distant ocean bottom. Blades of sea grass floated by in the lazy current as silver bubbles rose in the blue green water.
Something larger than the rest of the swarming inhabitants.
There was no mistake he felt it with his entire being. Slowly he turned and just inches from him, her green eyes studied intently, his heart pounded within his chest. Together, suspended hundreds of feet above the submerged dunes of the oceans floor.
She was stunning in the olive colored water, her broad shoulders glistened as skittish flukes of sunlight twisted above. Her hair was morphing, blue green and gold, changing like nothing he'd ever seen. She extended a hand to him communicating as a whisper in his mind her lips never moving.
My name is Gill Finn, he said aloud as he woke himself.
The morning sun splashed orange light. He heard the filter purring and looked around the room. The school of Tetras swam about in their tiny ocean. Gill wanted to be where they were and then realized they were everywhere he was. His grandfather spoke as a whisper in his mind.
Go and catch that fish, boy.
Gill tried to fathom this as a dream. Until he remembered a wish is just a dream about to come true.
Somewhere, in another part of the universe it was summer being chased by fall, being chased by winter, waiting for the embrace of spring. The sun rose and set at the same time. A perfect composition relentlessly repeated. The moon sees the earth rise in its morning and set on the threshold of its night, pulling the oceans and timing their tides as a silent symphony. What was determined to be impossible suddenly was not.
You see? I am Gill Finn and so are you.
Copyright, Graham Hayward 2001-2011-2015