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Dad's Fish

My dad caught the biggest rainbow trout of his life, and he was so excited that he threw his fishing rod down and clamored up the riverbank and put the fish in the trunk and said, Come on, let's go.

I said, What about your rod? and he said, I won't be needing that anymore. After catching a fish like this, what's the point?

We drove into town and turned on a side street, then pulled up in front of a sign that read, Taxidermy. My dad told the man inside that he wanted the fish mounted no matter how much it cost, and the man grinned and said, Give me two weeks.

Dad was a wreck for the two long weeks of waiting. As the estimated time drew closer, he didn't eat nor sleep, he just paced the floor, waiting for the telephone to ring, with a voice on the other end saying, Come pick up your fish. Finally, that call came, and when it did, my dad ran out the door and dove in his old car, and liked to have lost it as he tore out of our yard on two wheels.

When he returned home, not a word was said. He held the fish up to show my mother, his head held high, but his face solemn, in reverence of the great fish. My mother just nodded, then went back to ironing, mumbling something about a lack of money, a leaky roof and a child in desperate need of braces.

He searched for a perfect spot on the wall to hang the trout, a place where he could sit and admire it in the best light. Dad held it up himself, but couldn’t get a good perspective unless he could step back and look, so he made me hold the fish mounted to a piece of wood up and he’d say, A little to the left… No… A little bit to the right. All the while, the backs of my arms burning, turning to jelly, while he cocked his head to one side and squinted.

The perfect place ended up being right in his line of sight from his recliner, on a wall where  photos of my brother and me as babies, memorable vacations we took, and my parents wedding pictures once hung.

At night, he would take the fish down from the hanger and gently place the trout in the bed between him and my mother, then crawl in and nestle up beside it and go to sleep. My mother would be forced to hug her edge of the bed, or get poked in the back with the piece of wood.You never pay me any attention, my mother would say,and dad would pull the fish to him and begin to snore.

First thing in the morning, Dad would hang the fish back up and take a seat in the recliner. That became his daily routine. No more work, or bowling, or even ballgames on TV. My mother worked long hours just so that she didn’t have to see my father’s state of trance.

My brother and I would ask him advice, or tell him a joke, or show him our report cards, but he just looked over our shoulders at the trout on the wall. Days turned into weeks, weeks into whole seasons and we accepted things as they were. My mother would make attempts to draw his attention, but, nothing. His mind was focused on the pink and silvery sides of the trout of his dreams.

My brother and I grew up and found our own way and left home. My mother gave up and left to find a better life elsewhere. My dad grew old and wrinkled long before his time, sitting there. The only difference for him was that there was more room for the fish in the bed since my mother’s departure.

I dropped by today for a visit and had to let myself in. There he sits now, gazing up at the trout, his eyes fixed. It was all he ever wanted, so it seems. Our life has passed by in an instant, all he saw of it was from the corner of his eye. From that same eye now runs a tear, not for what was, but for what could have been.


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