Blake awoke with a start. The brightness of the late morning sun against the rich blue of the cloudless early fall sky caused his eyes to blink repeatedly as he tried to focus on his unexpected surroundings. As the image took shape, he felt the coolness of a light breeze against his cheek as it produced a cascade of multi-colored ripples, a thousand tiny dancing prisms on the surface of the lake that stretched out before him.
“Did uh wake ya?” the baritone voice, laced with just a hint of a smile, asked.
Blake fought through the heavy blanket of grogginess that was fading quickly now and scanned around. His eyes darted back and forth from under the visor of his cap. The black rubber boots he was wearing were crossed at the ankle and propped-up on an old weathered and insect-eaten log. On either side of him rested a fishing pole with a third lying across his lap. Their lines hung lazily down to the pink and blue floats that bobbed up and down on the water where their weighted hooks surely had found the bottom. Leaning against a tree, he had his arms crossed in front of him. He could feel a pair of roots beneath his backside and he wondered briefly how he could have possibly fallen asleep in such an uncomfortable position. He tensed his muscles, trying to stretch, but the effort produced an unpleasant protest against even the smallest movement. Looking for the voice, he absently wiped away a trickle of drool that had escaped the corner of his mouth. “Huh?’”
“Um sorry as uh can be ’bout dat. I sho din mean ta,” the man said apologetically.
Blake’s eyes came to rest on the ancient form to his left, standing not ten feet away. From his weathered appearance the man looked to be in his late nineties, with a bald head, a scraggly white beard and leathery, chocolate-brown skin that hung just as lazily from old bones as did Blake’s fishing lines from their poles. He wore a dingy white tee shirt under a pair of filthy overalls sporting a faded red handkerchief in its breast pocket. In one of his withered hands he held a smallish wicker picnic basket. In the other was his own homemade fishing pole. “What?”
“Ya looked like ya wuz dead ta the world there ma son,” the old man cackled.
Blake looked first past him and then to his right down the shoreline. There was not another soul to be seen. Even across the lake, where the pine trees gathered close and swayed gently in the wind, their roots tickling the banks. There was no one.
The old man cocked his head to the side and squinted at Blake with one open eye. “Ya don’t mind if’n I rest these old bones next to ya do ya?”
This is my spot. Go and find your own. For as long as he could remember, Blake had been fishing this spot. It was a place far from everything and everyone. The solitude of fishing was the only way that he had found to unwind his tangled nerves from the stresses of the every day and he wasn’t willing to share his spot with anyone. “Well—”
“Thank ya, kindly,” the old man said.
Blake thought that he could actually hear the man’s bones creak as he let out a groan and plopped down on the bank, leaning up against a tree of his own. He cleared his throat. “Actually, I was kind’a hoping to spend some time by myself. Clear my head. ” Gesturing up the shore-line he added, “There’s plenty of space for you to set up down there.”
“What kind’a bait ya usin’?” the old man asked.
You obviously understand English. Isn’t it rude to ignore people when they talk to you where you come from? Furrowing his brow, Blake considered vocalizing the thought, but he became distracted when he tried unsuccessfully to remember what bait he had chosen for that day.
“Lots a folks use night-crawlers er crickets. Me?” He reached into the wicker basket, “I just like ta ball up a little bread.” Producing a slice, he proceeded to tear off a small piece and roll it around between his fingers and thumb. When he was satisfied, the old man placed it on his hook and cast it into the water.
Bread? Never heard of that before. Blake watched him for a moment as he waved the pole back and forth. Finally finding the perfect spot, the old man rested it across his thigh.
I’m about to hurt this old man’s feelings. “Look Mister, I don’t want to be rude—”
“Are ya retired?” The withered man kept his eyes on his fishing line.
Blake shook his head. “Excuse me?”
“Ya look awful young ta be retired, is all.”
Blake knitted his eyebrows together, his patience growing thin. “No, I am not retired.” He accentuated every syllable, and then his expression changed as his mind made the subtle transference from annoyance to confusion as he tried to remember just what it was that he did when he wasn’t fishing.
The old man shrugged. “Jus’ figured ya must be retired, bein’ that this ain’t a weekend er anythin’.”
“Well, no,” Blake responded, still perplexed by his memory loss. “I’m not retired. But I was— ”
“On vacation, den,” the old man suggested.
At first the interruption annoyed Blake even more, but when the idea of a vacation seemed a reasonable answer, he sighed and agreed. “Yes. I’m on vacation.”
“Gots any kids?”
Blake thought for a moment. “Yeah, a boy and a girl,” he replied and then he corrected himself. “Two girls.”
The old man looked over at Blake and smiled toothlessly. “Well, dang son! Ya don’t sound too sure yer own self! How many ya gots?”
How could I forget how many kids I have? And why am I talking to this old geezer? “Three! I have three. A boy and two girls.”
The old man chuckled. “Can ya remember dey names?”
Blake furrowed his brow and took another moment. These questions aren’t hard! C’mon, think! He focused his mind, picturing each of his children in turn. “Craig, Kelly, and my youngest is Trin. Short for Trinity.”
“Dey mus be at home with dey ma.”
With each question, Blake was becoming more frustrated. The time it took him to picture his wife seemed like an eternity and he was embarrassed when he saw the old man smiling at him, waiting patiently. “No. They all moved away. I don’t see them much anymore.”
The old man shook his head. “Tsk, tsk, tsk … now dat’s a shame. Once dem kids gets loose, dey jus’ like da wind.” With that, he turned his attention back to his pole.
Blake closed his eyes and took a deep breath. The more he thought about it, the more difficult it became to remember the details of his life. He shook his own head, attempting to clear the cobwebs, and then decided that it was his turn to ask a few questions. “Is it your hobby, annoying people who’d rather be left by themselves?”
But the old man ignored him. “I gots me some kids.”
Blake began to wonder if the man was deaf. He turned his attention back to his own poles. Maybe if I just ignore him, he’ll go away.
“Wanna know how many?”
Blake stared at his floats, bobbing lazily. No.
Blake couldn’t help it. Reflexively, he did a double take. “Twelve?”
The old man squared his shoulders. “Dats right, a dozen!”
“Do you see them much?”
“Oh, I see ’em all da time. I gots no idea what I’d do if’n I couldn’t see ’em reg’lar. Dem kids is ma heart!”
Blake gave him an incredulous look. “You must have a huge heart.”
The old man squinted over at him again. “”Let me let’cha in on a little secret, ma son. It’s dem kids what keeps me alive. Wut goods uh ol’ man septin fer his kids?”
For some reason, in that last statement, Blake found a marginal amount of respect for the man. “Well, any parent that can raise twelve kids and still want them around when they grow up deserves a compliment. Heck, an award! You and the wife must’ve done a good job raising them.”
The old man did his own double-take and started to laugh. “Aw son … now, don’t be missin’ ma meanin’. Dem kids all gots minds o’ dey own. Uh couple of ’em turned out perty good … and a couple more ain’t too bad … but dere’s a couple of ’em dat’s so bad, dey whups dey own butts twice a week!” The old man gave him a knowing look. “How ’bout chu? Do yo kids be behavin’ demselfs?”
A thousand images flashed through Blake’s mind. “They … well … I guess they stayed out of trouble. I mean, for the most part. I let their mom take care of them.” He took a deep breath and sighed heavily. “Mostly, they just … annoyed me. When they were little, they were always under foot. My wife always had diapers to change, noses to wipe, messes to clean up. She never had any time for me.”
“But, dey wuz fun too, huh? Playin’ wit ’em, takin’ ’em sum’where special, teachin’ dem ’bout life and love and … well heck son, teachin’ dem how ta be growd!”
Blake shook his head. “I inherited my father philosophy on child rearing. They should be seen and not heard. Seen so you know they’re not doing something foolish and quiet so they don’t disturb me when I’m working. I work at home, you know.” Even as he said the words, Blake was having trouble remembering what exactly it was he did when he worked at home. Some time passed in his contemplations and when he realized that the old man hadn’t said anything, he looked over to find him staring back. The look on his face suggested that he had solved a riddle he had been working on for some time. “What?”
“It ain’t no wonder why she left ya.”
“Who? Who left me?”
Blake scoffed. “I never said she left me.”
“Ya say dey moved away. Dat ya don’t see ’em much.”
Blake gave him an incredulous look. “The kids. The kids moved away. Not my wife.” He looked back at the floats. “And that’s just the way I like it. I married her for her, not to have kids. Then they came along and screwed everything up. Now we don’t have any time to ourselves anymore.”
The old man gave him a sideways glance, “Wut’chu mean now? Thought’chu say dey moved away.”
There began a long silence. The breeze had disappeared and Blake continued to stare at the pink and blue plastic orbs floating on the stillness of the water. He didn’t understand his slip of the tongue either, but he didn’t feel the need to try to explain himself. Frustration was rising in him again. He wanted to be alone. He didn’t want to answer any more of the man’s questions and he didn’t want to think about anything but fishing. Taking a deep breath, he said, “I’d appreciate it if you’d move on to another spot.”
“Naw, ma son. Ya said now. Ya said now y’all ain’t gots no time by yerselfs.”
Blake shook his head, “I meant … I meant before! Before they moved out! Before they started their own lives and moved away. Now we have all the time together we want.”
Another short silence and then the old man laughed, “But … she ain’t wit cha.”
This is just too much! Turning to face him, Blake almost shouted, “Are you deaf? I said that I want to be left alone!”
“Where she is?”
Blake screwed up his face, “What?”
“You say, now y’all gots all da time tagether y’all wants, but you sittin’ here ‘lone.”
Blake looked back at the old man. “I … I just wanted some time by myself … that’s all. I needed some time.”
The old man adjusted his line and cleared his throat before he spoke again. “Seems like ta me, she would’a come wit’cha if’n she wants ta. Maybe she don’t wants ta.”
Blake was nearly at his wit’s end with the man’s intrusion into his life. “Why wouldn’t she want to?” he demanded.
“Maybe cause uh da way you treats her babies. They’s her babies and you dey daddy. She wadn’t s’posed to raise ’em by herself. Y’all s’posed to do that tagether. Y’all’s a family. Seems like, ta me, ya don’t wanna be nuthin but ‘lone.”
Blake was on the verge of exploding. How dare this man presume to know anything about me! “You, sir, are an ignorant old fool who has worn out his welcome where I’m concerned! I love my wife very much! She just … she just had something else to do. Now, if you won’t find another spot to fish—” painfully, he started to stand, “—then I will.”
“Now, hold on there, ma son. I wasn’t tryin’ ta turn yer apple cart over. I wuz jus’ tryin’ ta have us a conversation, is all.” The old man issued a myriad of grunts and groans as he rose to his feet, taking his line out of the water and grabbing his wicker basket as he did. “I’m a movin’.”
Blake settled himself back down and watched as the old man hobbled away. Just as he turned his attention back to his poles he heard the old man say, “Reckon wut dat wuz … dat yer wife had ta do that she ain’t wit’cha? She go an’ see dem kids, ya think?”
If eyes were daggers, the old man would surely have been impaled by them as he walked out of sight. Perplexed by his puzzling words, Blake shook his head, turned back to his fishing poles and blew an exasperated sigh,“Finally.” Settling back against the tree, he closed his eyes. As he drifted into a deep sleep, he was troubled when out of the darkness he heard these words as if spoken from a great distance.
“He should be dead.”
* * * * *
Beep, beep, beep.
The maddening sound grew closer and closer. What now?
When he finally managed to open his eyes, he couldn’t have been more confused. Instead of looking out over the lake from the vantage of his favorite fishing spot, he found himself in a dimly lit room. He was lying in bed, but it wasn’t his bed. He could sense a presence nearby. As his eyes adjusted, they came to rest on a familiar young woman standing next to him, cradling a pink bundle in her arms.
“Blake?” her voice was soft and warm. “Can you hear me?”
“Sharon?” he asked, his voice not much more than a whisper.
“Oh, thank God, you’re awake!” She smiled and spoke in hushed tones despite her excitement. Turning away she said, “Craig, run and get the nurse! Hurry up!”
As he came to grips with his reality, he listened to the fast moving steps that faded into the distance. “Where—”
“You’re in the emergency room.”
“What’s that beeping?”
“Your IV ran out and the nurse went to get another bag,” Sharon said, and then added, “How do you feel?”
The moment she spoke, he tried sitting up and regretted it. “Like I’ve been hit by a truck.”
“Try not to move,” she cautioned. “The doctor doesn’t think you broke any bones, but, just be still. You hit your head pretty hard. They think you have a concussion.”
“You fell. Thirty feet. You’re lucky to be alive. The foreman said that the scaffold that you were standing on collapsed. You’ve been unconscious for almost ten hours.”
There was the sound of returning footsteps and then a child’s excited voice said, “Mama, the nurse says she’s coming.”
“Okay, sweetie,” she said and then disappeared from Blake’s sight. “Now, you and Kelly keep an eye on Trinity for me while I talk to Daddy.” When she appeared again, the pink bundle was gone. Wiping away tears with one hand, she grasped his hand with the other. “Oh, Blake, I thought we lost you.” she smiled again. “You can’t leave me. We have a lot of work to do with these kids.”
Blake closed his eyes tightly and tried unsuccessfully to find a comfortable position. “I was fishing.”
Sharon cocked her head to one side. “Fishing? Blake, you’ve never been fishing a day in your life.”
“I know, but … we’re going. All five of us.”