I hadn’t thought about the kids since Saturday night when I was sitting on Miller and Landry’s deck, full of steak and beer, and I’d thought how I was pretty fortunate. When we pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot I thought about them again. When we went in I looked around and saw them sitting at a table in about the same spot as last week.
Charlie went to the bathroom and then came back and we ordered.
“Did you see who’s here?â€ I asked him as we stood by the condiments waiting for our food.
“No, who?â€ He said it like maybe Julie, his ex-girlfriend, was there.
“Maybe we should get an extra order of fries.â€
Our food came and we got it and sat down in the same section as the kids but a ways away. They were both sitting there with an empty tray in front of them. They were looking out the window at the parking lot and the highway and not saying anything.
I opened up one of my cheeseburgers but Charlie didn’t do anything.
“Shit,â€ he muttered.
“I don’t now, man. What the hell are we supposed to do?â€
“About them? I don’t know.â€
“Do you want to see if they want to go fishing?â€
“Are you serious? We’ll be arrested as pedophiles. Their mom will probably come after us with a gun.â€
“Fuck it man, I don’t think she’s probably the type to be too concerned about what her kids are doing.â€
“You seriously want to bring them fishing? They could be little con artists. They might push us overboard and steal our shit.â€
Charlie didn’t say anything. He just looked at me. He still had not touched his food. The kids were still sitting across the room, small and silent but now there was no ignoring their pitiful presence. I looked over toward them and the older boy looked at me. He smiled a little and I waved and he waved.
“Hey guys,â€ I called over to them.
“Your mom at work again?â€
“What are your guy’s names?â€ I asked.
The older boy said, “I’m Ted, that’s Jesse.â€
Charlie blurted out, “You guys wanna go fishing?
I resisted shooting a look at Charlie, now was not the time to show dissent.
Ted looked at both of us and then said, “Are you going fishing?â€
“Yeah, you want to come?â€ Charlie asked.
Ted looked at Jesse. As always, Jesse said nothing. Ted didn’t seem to know what to do. He was trying to figure out why the hell we wanted to take him fishing. I didn’t want to, but that was beside the point. Charlie probably didn’t either. There was some ethic programmed in us by all those Big Brother/Big Sister advertisements above the urinals in the bars we went to that said us aimless, obligation-free, time-rich twenty something males should take disadvantaged kids under our wing.
“Maybe, I don’t know,â€ Ted said.
“Where’s you mom work? Should we call her and see if it’s okay?â€ Charlie asked.
“I don’t know what it’s called. It’s a bar.â€
“You know how to get there?â€
“Yeah, it’s just over there,â€ Ted pointed at and through the far wall of the McDonald’s.
“Should we go see what their mom says?â€ Charlie asked me.
“Yeah, why not?â€ I said.
“Can you guys take us over there and we’ll ask her if it’s okay?â€
It was okay with their mom. She looked us both up and down and said it was fine as long as they were back at dark. I offered to leave her my driver’s license and she shook her head and laughed and said it was fine. She turned and went back to work, only looking back to say, “Thanks.â€
When we got to the landing and the two kids got out of the back seat Miller and Landry gave me the funniest look I’d ever gotten from them.
“Guys, this is Ted and Jesse. They’re going to fish with us. Ted and Jesse, that’s Miller and that’s Landry.â€
Ted and Jesse walked down to the water and looked at the lake. They were funny kids, so restrained. As we unloaded, Charlie and I told the other guys why there were going to fish with us. I don’t know if they quite got it, but they didn’t have any problem.
We had plenty of spare gear and the canoe was empty on an evening like this, so Ted and Jesse sat on life jackets in the middle and we set off across the lake. It was a beautiful night. The frogs were singing a little, birds slipped from branch to branch over the water. The occasional breeze rustled the reeds and the leaves.
When we got to the far shore I used a regular spinning rod instead of the usual five weight fly rod so I’d be on the same page as the kids. Charlie and the other guys used the long rods. I put little Rapalas on the kids’ lines, gave them a quick run-down on casting it out there, pointed where the fish would be and told them to go for it.
Jesse couldn’t cast very far at first but that was fine. The kid still hadn’t hardly said a word, but he at least seemed a little relaxed now. I didn’t want to get in their way. There was no point in trying to make them expert fishermen. I let them fish and I didn’t fish much myself but tried to keep the canoe in a good spot for them. Charlie never was one to let something distract him from fishing â€“ “I fish to catch fish, if I want to talk, I’ll find a girl,â€ I’d heard him say a few times â€“ so he didn’t pay the kids much mind.
The fish didn’t seem as aggressive as the week before so it was a while before anything happened. Everything got quiet and still. The occasional plunk of a lure going into the water, the soft sound of the reels smoothly spinning, feet scraping on the bottom of the canoe. I felt my world shrink to the area of the boat and I forgot all else. Time, with all its power and terror, seemed to stop. Memory caught up with the present and longing lifted from my mind.
I seemed to blink and suddenly the whole big world was back. Everything seemed as far off as the dairy cows on the distant shore. I felt time again and realized that we had been fishing in absolute silence for I knew not how long. I became scared that the boys were getting bored, especially because there had been no sign of fish yet. I watched them for a moment and saw that Ted was putting his whole body into his cast, rocking the canoe each time he did, trying to force the lure to fly far.
His brother had been fishing off the other side of the canoe but he turned and casted to the same side as Ted. His lure landed 10 or 15 feet from Ted’s line and Ted â€“ without even looking in his direction, seeming to not think of anything but the fishing â€“ lashed out and punched Jesse on the shoulder.
“Hey!â€ I said.
Ted and Jesse looked at me. So did Charlie.
“What?â€ Ted asked.
“What did you hit Jesse for?â€
“He got in my way.â€
Charlie turned around and resumed fishing.
“Well, you didn’t have to hit him.â€
I didn’t want to say anything more and I didn’t feel like I had to. Jesse continued casting on that side of the boat and the silence resumed, though this time it wasn’t quite so comfortable. I picked up my rod from where it had been sitting at my feet and sent a cast toward a big log sitting on the edge of the drop-off. As soon as I started reeling in, a fish slammed the lure. I wasn’t ready for it but I set the hook and had the fish on.
“You got one?â€ Ted said.
“I got one.â€
“Right by that stump.â€
Both Jesse and Ted reeled in fast and then casted out toward the stump, nearly crossing their lines and nearly crossing mine. The fish wasn’t bad and had lots of fight in him, jumping out of the water twice and diving deep. He thrashed his head and swam in circles. I steadily brought him in, somehow managing to avoid the net of line that was now in the water around me.
When I got him in my hand I held him for the boys to see and they both nodded and Jesse leaned toward me and tried to touch it. I held it out and he just poked its side and then sat back. As I got to work on disengaging the hook with my needle-nose pliers I asked them if they had ever been fishing before.
“No, we ain’t,â€ Ted replied.
I put the fish back in the water and it swam off.
“Why didn’t you keep it? We not going to eat it?â€ Jesse suddenly asked.
“No. We don’t really keep fish too much. Especially bass, I don’t much like the taste of bass.â€
“We used to eat bass sometimes, it ain’t so bad. What do you fish for if you don’t eat ‘em?â€
Charlie had been sitting quietly in the bow, not fishing for once, and suddenly spoke up.
“We just kind of like it out here. Nice and quiet isn’t it?â€
“It’s fun to catch ‘em. You guys should get back to fishing and we’ll get you some fish,â€ I said.