Rated: E · Short Story · Other · #1274155
Abe struggles to overcome the death of his father
The early morning mist refused to acknowledge the presence of the indefatigable sun as it tried to force its way through the steaming residue of the overnight temperature inversion. Like a leaden cloak the fog sat heavily on the surface of the still lake, obscuring the far shore behind banks of thick uniform grey, which barely moved in the breathless air. It was going to be a hot day, for sure, once the sun finally rose to its zenith and burned off the oppressive mist. But for now it had to remain patient, for the dawn was still plying its trade. It seemed that nature too had forgotten that a new day was imminent, for no birds called or clacked from the reed beds that fringed the water and the breeze that so often shapes the surface was absent; it was deathly quiet. Silent as a grave and respectful.
A man appeared on the narrow shore bent forward with the effort of dragging a heavy object across the sandy dunes to the waters edge. Tall and muscular with long, straining legs his face set into a grimace with the effort, he exhaled noisily. His laboured breath hung in the air leaving a small trail, like the puffed out smoke of a model train, as he leant, bent double, into the task in hand. Sinewy hands gripped the hemp rope where it passed over his thickly padded jacket preventing it from digging into his shoulder as the bottom of the canoe scuffed and bucked, rasping like a blacksmiths file and leaving an indented trail in the sand, like the passing of a flat bellied snake. He never wavered but continued inexorably as he had done countless times before at the same time of day. But the task this particular morning was made even harder by the added weight of a heavy kit bag stacked neatly in the bottom, which he had purposefully packed along with two smooth wooden planks, the previous evening.
Abe loved this time of day; it was the only thing in his life that had been reliable. No matter what the season, the day always arrived and the lake went about its business. His father had loved it too during his lifetime and had passed on his knowledge to his only son. He had listened intently to every word his father had said about the best places to catch the carp as they rose to snap up the berries from autumn trees, or the places where they sit on the lake bottom. He had learned the etiquette of the tooing and froing of the other fishing craft and also the whereabouts of the dangerous, hidden places in the reed beds where, if not careful, a man could disappear forever.
It had been twenty years since his father had indeed disappeared forever freeing himself of his mental anguish, ‘somewhere’ in the reed beds. Twenty long years had passed before Abe was finally able to come to terms with the loss of the man who had been his mentor and friend. Only now was Abe able to understand the reasons behind his death. It had been a painful passage of time through seemingly endless avenues of acid rain, but now, at long last, he saw the rationale and was at peace.
Then splosh again as his feet entered the shallows where the sand became water and small fishes wagged tails, like puppies lapping at a motherly teat. The task lessened as the boat slowly entered the water the prow bobbing on the waves created by his paddling, but it still needed a hard tug to free the heavy end from the cloying ground, before the boat floated freely. Normally the boat would bob and buck becoming instantly alive like a badly behaved calf, but Abe noted with satisfaction that the added weight made the boat sit low in the water and act sluggishly, in a manner calculated for his mission.
Carefully keeping his balance by placing his hands on the side of the boat to steady the rocking motion he stepped into the canoe, the dripping water from his feet adding to the accumulated puddle from yesterday’s trip. He pushed the clutter of fishing gear, buckets and line, to one side in order to settle down for the short trip. Using the paddle as a punt he pushed the boat away from the bank shoving hard into the giving soil, until the water was deep enough to use the paddle in the manner for which it was designed.
The almost imperceptible sound of the paddle methodically entering the water. He did it without thinking, grateful for yet another inherited skill. His father had first learned the art of silent paddling through the necessity of staying undetected under the noses of German gunners off the coast of Normandy, when the slightest of splashes would bring a barrage of fire onto the heads of the grim faced commando’s. His father never told him how many missions he had survived but Abe had no doubt that his expert boatmanship had played a large part in bringing him home safely.
Kneeling Eskimo style, slightly forward of centre, to counter the weight of the kitbag, Abe watched the paddle as it entered the water. It never failed to fascinate him how each stroke produced concentric rings and tiny whirlpools that slipped by the sides, as he moved effortlessly onwards. He turned his head to catch the tiny vortex as its short life was extinguished, before the next one followed on closely behind. Tiny droplets of water fell from the blade before it entered and each droplet produced its own disturbance, which was soon swallowed up by bigger things. With his right hand gripping the tee shaped handle and his left lower down the shaft he moved with the practiced grace of many years paddling. With each stroke he closed on the spot that he had chosen for his task taking no more than ten minutes from where he had started.
Nosing forward through the tall reeds that rustled like flutes, and closed behind him like a curtain, he entered the clear spot that he knew so intimately. It was a small haven in which he had sheltered many times from the wind and where he knew the fish lay deep. He had no need to open the waterproof map case that he wore around his neck every time he fished, but he nevertheless unzipped its opening and removed the hand sketched map produced meticulously by his father all those years ago. He carefully unfolded it noting how age had not worn it, nor had nature warped the landscape, lovingly reproduced on the waterproof paper. (So typical of his fathers’ meticulous manner, a map on waterproof paper contained in a waterproof case).
The lay of the inlet was exactly like his father had depicted, everything fitted into place and was where it was meant to be. Even the stumpy post from a long rotted jetty still protruded from the water, where it had pointed to the sky for decades. A Kingfisher, disturbed by the sudden intrusion, took off from the post, skitting away low across the surface like a blaze of lightning. Reaching forward, he felt without looking, for the weighted rope and in one deft movement slipped it over the side, knowing from experience exactly how far the water would reach along its length. Once anchored, Abe reached into his breast pocket and took out a packet of cigarettes, removing one, he tapped it on the gunwale whilst, semi consciously, flipping open the top of the brass lighter recovered from his deep trouser pocket. Screwing the flint downwards produced a spark that lit the cigarette first time producing the familiar and pungent smell of lighter fuel that hung for some minutes in the unmoving air. Turning the lighter in his hand he read the worn inscription on its lid for the thousandth time.
Cpl Nicolas Perkovic R.M. VC
Fearful lest it slip from his hand he carefully laid it on the kit bag and closed his eyes, nodding his head in time with the gentle rocking of the boat at its place of anchor. In his reverie he drew deeply on the cigarette, pulling the smoke into his lungs before releasing it into the cold air. The smell of the smoke lingered so with a lazy, well practised flick of his hand he sent it spinning away. The sun finally broke through the mist highlighting the magnolia reeds, but only in small patches, giving a renewed life and colour to the previously dull lakescape. Close by, a reed bunting rasped out its mating song, but it remained hidden amongst the thickly growing reeds. He dreamt of times long ago when he had dangled his hand over the side of his father’s rowing boat, watching it trailing through the water, enjoying the warmth of the surface that suddenly got colder if he delved his hand deeper. Often small sinews of weed would wrap around his extended fingers, catch around his thumb, and he would imagine that he was a soldier with a bandage wrapped around a wound. Then he would disentangle the weed and watch it disappear in the passing of the boat through the water. His summer holidays were filled with such events, his face glowed from the reflected glare at the end of each day and his hands became course, like those of a North Sea fisherman. The days always ended with the long trudge around the local shops, shouldering a heavy bag of slippery fish, whilst his father bartered with the shopkeepers for a few pennies.
Abe had followed his father’s footsteps into the Royal Marines and had seen active service in the Falklands conflict winning his own medals, but all that meant nothing now. From a small rucksack he produced a blue watertight bag which he carefully unzipped and took out the items which it contained. A prismatic compass lovingly oiled and maintained, a set of Wermacht binoculars which his father had seized from a dead German officer, and wrapped in greaseproof paper. Next, his fathers Victoria Cross, immaculate and weighty, shining dully as he turned it in his hands. Along with the lighter he replaced all the items in the blue bag securing it in the bottom, fearful lest it somehow slip overboard.
Drawing the last few inhalations from the cigarette whilst clenched between his lips, he suddenly felt the need to hurry, if he was to complete what he had come to do. Drawing several lengths of line from the junk in the bowels of the canoe he fitted some bait to the many hooks, and allowed the weight to pull the line down into the depths. Beyond his secret haven the mist began to peel slowly away from the surface of the lake, other boats were moving into position but nobody was aware of his presence, which was exactly as he had planned for nobody was to disturb him. Testing the line he briefly cupped a few drops of water and passing it to his lips he drank in small sips, absorbing the vegetative taste of the earthy water. The surface of the lake lapped against the smooth hull making almost indiscernible slapping sounds.
He knew that the time had come.
The previous evening he had carefully prepared the kit bag so that it was manageable even whilst balanced precariously in a canoe. Opening the top flap he pulled out about a foot of stout rope to which was fastened a screw gate karabiner testing it was securely fastened to the inners, before refastening the flap securely, leaving the rope free. Then the two polished planks of wood were laid across the canoe forming a platform next to which he crouched. Looking carefully about him, lest he be disturbed, he hauled the kit bag up until it lay lengthways along the planks, waiting a few moments until the boat steadied itself. Abe squinted against the bright sun that now permeated through the rapidly disappearing fog, but he was looking elsewhere to a place and time far in his memory. He paid no heed to the sounds of the day coming to life, the distant hum of traffic moving along a fast flowing road, the other boats moving across the water with their owners shouting and larking to each other, the chirping of a Skylark over the fields of rape seed. He did not hear the mallards chasing across the shallows, or the distant barking of a dog dashing after a stick.
His eyes, glazed, as if in a state of trance failed to see the sun finally rise above the reeds, nor did he feel the warmth on his face. Concentration was paramount. Moving as an automaton he clipped the karabiner to the strong leather belt at his waist and with a well practised movement he slid over the side into the water. With the balance lost the canoe tipped and the kitbag slid along the planks.
Abe watched with grim fascination the bubbles rising to the surface above him and the whirlpool generated by the passage of the weight dragging him down through the water. As he drifted down he wondered how long it would be before he was unable to hold his breath and whether it was true about seeing your life slip away. It was too late now to change his mind, even if he so wanted, his fate had been decided long before this final day. His mind was at peace he knew that all along his father had been right.
A carp rose from the murky lake bottom from close to where Abe settled and sniffed at the juicy maggot before taking a large bite, sending the steel barb through its jaw. In indignation it struggled but the quiver that went along the line went unheeded.