Karma. Destiny or fate. Most of us would have heard or spoken the phrase: That’s Karma for you. This phrase came to mind when my Dad, an avid fisherman, told me a fishing story, many years ago.
Fishing, a calm and passive past-time, right? Not always.
One Would Be Enough.
One big fat salmon would be enough. Vincent manoeuvres his chair along the zigzag track. One salmon would keep Doris happy. He reaches his favourite position, a flat platform of ground above the canal below, wide enough for his chair. He yanks hard on the brake and begins to prepare his rod.
The early morning sun warms his face as he gazes into the calm water of the canal. Will today be the day he’ll catch a salmon and break the drought? He replayed the early morning conversation he’d had with his fretful wife.
“I can’t help but worry. What if your brake failed and you went hurtling into the canal, trapped beneath your wheelchair? What then?”
“That won’t happen, Doris. The brake is sturdy and Harold is there with me if anything should happen.”
“Even Harold would struggle to pull you out of the canal if… .”
“Stop worrying, woman. It’s not going to happen. Every week we have the same conversation and every week, I come back safe, don’t I?”
“You haven’t caught any salmon for weeks. All you’ve caught is that nasty sniffle. You’re just a foolish, stubborn old man.”
The catch on the gate clicked open.
“Morning Doris, morning Vincent,” Harold, striding up the path, waved.
“Morning Harold.” Doris bent and tugged at Vincent’s woollen scarf. “Promise you’ll keep this on. I don’t want that sniffle spreading to your chest.”
“I promise, sweetheart,” and he pecked his wife of fifty-four years on her cheek.
As he prepares his rod, Vincent wonders if Doris is right. Perhaps he is losing his touch. Perhaps his fishing days are over.
He cast his rod, the sinker plops into the water. He wedges the rod firmly in the side of his chair, praying for the knowing jerk.
Melodic whistling drifts from the top of the embankment. Howard is making a brew.
Howard doesn’t fish, he sketches and paints vivid landscapes. An odd pursuit for such a big, rugged fellow, Vincent ponders.
As the kettle sings its wheezy tune, Howard contemplates the spiral of steam curling into the air. A warm tingle seeps through his body. Perched on the easel in his garden studio at home, is the half-finished portrait of his dead wife, Olivia. Her slightly crinkling lips and glistening blue eyes, captured in bold brush-strokes. As he paints, Howard hears Olivia’s laughter, imagines she is with him once again. He sees her gentle smile dances in the vapour.
His reverie is broken by voices coming from the canal bank. He fills the metal mugs. The voices grow louder.
Stuart Agnew is steaming mad when he arrives at the canal to find his favourite spot taken by some old codger in a wheel-chair, halfway up the bank. That morning, he finished his night-watchman job at the depot, late. Donaldson, the foreman, had caught him napping, and made him do another round.
“Yer paid to patrol not sleep, you lazy sod.” Donaldson roughly kicked Agnew’s boot, waking him.
“I wasn’t sleeping. Just resting my eyes for a bit.” As he stumbled to his feet, the near-empty whisky bottle clanged to the ground.
“And what have I told yer ‘bout drinking on the job?”
Agnew shrugged. “I just had a nip to keep the cold from my bones.”
“You’d keep warm patrolling the yard as you’re paid to. Do another round and take that bloody bottle with you.”
Then he had a confrontation with the missus when he got home, thrusting him into a worse mood.
“If you think you’re going fishing today, think again.” She met him at the door, her arms folded across her ample bosom.
“Oh jeez, mother of God,” he attempted to push past her. She, a solid woman, stepped deftly to the side and blocked his passage.
“Don’t blaspheme, Stuart Agnew”
“Give a man some peace, woman. I’ve been up all night.”
“Sleeping it off, more like.” she sniffed. “You’ll get all the peace you want once them lawns are mowed and that damn gate’s fixed.” She snorted, turned and closed the door in his face.
Defeated, Agnew went to fetch the mower from the cluttered shed. His beloved rod, leaning against the back wall, beaconed him.. Why the hell not? He sprung into action. Bait, chilly bin, fold-up stool, then his rod. Furtively, he strode to his car. He could see the missus in the rear vision mirror as he drove away, waving a spatula, shouting. He couldn’t hear what she said and cared even less.
Vincent watches the short pug-faced bloke walking along the canal’s edge below him. In one hand, he’s carrying a beat-up chilly bin and fold-away stool and in the other, an impressive large rod.
The bloke sits his stocky body on the stool, snaps open the chilly bin and prepares his rod.
“Hey mate, could you move along a bit?”
“Nah, this is my spot and I ain’t moving.”
“But my lines already in,” Vincent wriggles his line.
“But my lines already in” Pug-face mimics back.
“Come on mate. Be reasonable, just move along.”
“What, you gonna come down and bash me with that wheel-chair of yours?” Pug-face laughs and lights a cigarette.
“Nah, he ain’t but I will,” swivelling on the stool, Agnew looks up as Howard steps from behind the car.
“But I always fish here, this is my spot.”
“Not today it ain’t. Now move along or I’ll come down and help you.”
Agnew scowls and gathers his gear. He tucks the fold-away stool under his arm, and clutching the chilly bin in one hand and his rod in the other, he glares at Vincent and Howard.
Vincent’s line jerks. “You beauty!” He begins to wind his rod.
A large, silvery salmon emerges through the water surface, thrashing at the end of the line. Agnew draws deeply on his cigarette, drops the chilly bin, and grabs the taut line. He holds the cigarette against the fine nylon. The salmon plummets into the canal.
“You rotten swine,” Howard strides down the embankment.
Agnew picks up the chilly bin and hurries along the wet, grassy track in the direction he came, chuckling. His foot slips. He trips over his rod. The rod rolls into the canal. He kneels, plunges his upper body into the water. His arms flail desperately.
Vincent, forgetting the salmon, rocks with laughter.
Howard hears Olivia’s laughter. She is with him once again.