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  • Been revising a longer work, here's a slice:


    “Man,” said Trent. “This is the life.” He leaned back in one of the folding deck chairs Sarge had set out once they anchored and stretched his feet out on the rail.

    Sarge grinned.

    Trish sighed.

    "What's the matter? Don't you like fishing?"

    "It's, a long story." She closed her eyes and hoped they would go back to discussing bait and the best jigging technique. All you had to do was raise and lower pole every once in a while so the bait looked alive. Those two made it sound like it was an advanced art to get just the right flutter on a bit of clam dangling in front of a goggle-eyed audience a hundred feet below them.

    "Oh. Queasy, huh." Trent nodded knowingly at Sarge.

    "I’m fine,” said Trish and pulled the brim of her hat lower.

    "Yeah but, fishing's different. You know, bait and stuff. Man, when me and my cousins were out in my Uncle's boat we had this chum..."

    Here it comes, thought Trish, a fishing story. She’d been hearing them practically her whole life. Her mother had dozens. Everything from flying fish to electric eels. She collected the exotic, weird, dangerous and, in the end, grilled fish. Henry was more of a specialist. He’d lean back, close his eyes, “There I was,” he'd say in a far-off, dreamy voice, “alone at sunset, fly rod in hand and...”

    Trish had never caught a fish and she'd rather confess sea-sickness and fake the symptoms than tell the story.

    Maybe it was parental guilt. Maybe it was a warped sense of duty. Either way, Rachel and Henry decided she needed a wilderness experience and they needed a family trip. They only had time to squeeze in a quick weekend at some State Park down in the Ozarks. She’d managed to forget its name but not the rest.

    "Complete with a trout stream," her father pointed out.

    "Just enough to get your feet wet." Rachel actually giggled.

    Trish had a new rod and a bright metal case of spinners and flashers, plastic worms and feather creatures. She had a brand new hat she wore with the brim in the back and rubber boots so tall they had to be rolled down. She was ready.

    On the drive down she looked out the window and imagined the stories she’d finally have to tell.
    But as soon as they drove in she could tell it wasn’t going to be what any of them expected. Campers, motor cycles, vans, and pickups filled the sites. The air was thick with the smoke of hundreds of barbecues. Someone cranked Stairway to Heaven, the group next door notched up Dolly Parton.

    “God, what a scene,” said Rachel.

    Henry put a hand to his ear and raised his eyebrows.

    The next day was worse. The thing was, the fish didn't actually live in the stream. Not for very long anyway. They grew up in pens and a couple of times a year the hatchery hauled a load over and dumped them in the stream. It wasn't fishing it was, a grab your neighbor and come on down, Tri-State Fish Fry. The stream was wall-to-wall people for a mile and a half. Both banks. Well, arm rest to arm rest for the ones who brought along their folding plastic chairs.

    They were all catching fish; frizzy sunburnt mothers, toddlers stained with ten-percent real fruit juice, grandfathers who hadn't shaved in a week, motorcycle mamas bulging out of cut-off shorts and leather vests, and everyone with a can of Niblet's Golden Sweet Corn open beside them. At first she figured it was some kind of country thing. Like chewing tobacco. Until she saw a blue-haired granny slip a kernel on her hook. It was bait. The only bait these fish would recognize as food. The fish in the stream didn't have a clue that the spinners and flashers and feather creations she tossed at them were supposed to be bugs. But they knew corn the way a cat knows the sound of a can opener.

    “You try here, Trish,” Henry told her when they finally found a few square feet of free space. “I’m going to try downstream, maybe find the one that got away. There’s nothing to it, just slip on a kernel and toss it out there. I’ll be back to check.” He grinned and vanished in the crowd.

    Rachel waved encouragingly from the shady spot where she’d parked herself and her book.

    An hour and twelve hooks later, she snagged the far side of the stream.

    “Got it again dearie, what a shame,” said the lady in curlers on her right.

    “Use a little less wrist when you cast,” said the first grader on her left, dropping another fish into his bucket.
    Trish tugged, the line broke and she went over backwards into the mud. She got up and started to walk away.

    “Hey,” yelled the kid tugging at her T-shirt. “Your stuff.” He tugged again.

    Trish looked down. His hand was grimy with what she hoped was chocolate ice cream. She sighed and gathered what was left of her gear.

    No way was she going to explain to Trent just why she'd never caught a fish.
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