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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2267992-Lets-Go-Fishing
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Experience · #2267992
Fictional short story based on real events
“How am I supposed to love you when all you do is criticize me? After all this time don’t you know that I shut down when you do that?"

The husband folds his arms across his chest, averts his gaze downward and withdraws into himself. The wife looks at me through the camera on their computer and rolls her eyes before turning toward her husband.

“You know, we’ve been in therapy for 15 years and I don’t think we’ve gotten anything out of it.”

I look at her through the camera on my computer as she continues to stare at her husband. Then I look down at the clock on my desk and see that it is 5 minutes before the hour. Thank goodness.

I let the silence continue for another moment just in case either of them wants to say anything else. Nothing. I take that as my cue.

“Ok guys I know this has been a rough session but we’re almost out of time. I’m going to get my book so we can talk about scheduling.”

A few minutes later, after we agree on a date and time to meet again, we sign off and my work day is done. I immediately begin to gather my things. I put my laptop in its carrying case, turn out the lights and pick up my office keys. Without consciously meaning to I get out of there as quickly as possible.

I lock the suite door and pull it firmly behind me. I hear the latch click into place so there is no need to slow down or turn back. I bound down the stairs, turn left and walk out the back door of the building, into the sunshine.

The cool afternoon air hits my face a quick second after the sunshine and both are refreshingly wonderful. I approach the passenger side of my car and it unlocks automatically. I open the door, put my laptop and nylon lunch bag onto the seat and slam the door shut.

I walk around to the driver’s side and climb inside. The cool air disappears but the sun continues to shine on my face through the windshield. I think about digging into the center console for my sunglasses but decide that will take too long. So I lower the visor instead, buckle up and take off.

The lot behind my office building is a busy place so I veer slightly right around the sharp corner on the way out. Thankfully no one is coming the opposite way.

I lean into the left turn onto the connecting street. One more left turn at the occasionally busy corner up ahead and I will be on my way home. I exhale as if I had been holding my breath. Just then my phone blinks with an incoming text message from my 15 year old son.

Keeping one eye on the road I reach down with my right hand, remove my phone from the cup holder and attempt to deftly open the message with my thumb. No such luck. I consider pulling over so I can use both two hands, but I really do not want to spend the extra 30 seconds.

I glance again at the road in front of me, prop my knees under the steering wheel to hold it steady, and use both hands to open the text message.

“Can you pick me up from school on your way home?”

“Sure. Which doors?”

“Band doors.”

“Be there in 8 minutes.”

I put the phone down, stop at the corner and wait for two cars to pass in front of me and then make my turn. Any lingering thoughts about my work day exit my mind as I turn my attention towards my son.

What a fantastic kid he is, I think to myself. He is the youngest of our three kids and the only one left at home since his brother left for college last fall. Our daughter is also at school, about 2½ hours away. She is studying biology.

Both of our older two kids are very goal directed and have been since they were young. The youngest is different. He is a bit more relaxed, at least outwardly, and a free spirit. He is not sure what he wants to be when he grows up, or what he wants to study in college, but he still has plenty of time to figure things out. In the meantime he seems perfectly content.

I pull into the high school parking lot and navigate the end of day traffic before reaching the curb outside the band room doors. My son is waiting inside. He sees me drive up and pushes one of the doors open. I move my bags to the back seat.

He usually appears fairly stoic when he is not with his friends, but today he has an uneasy look about him as he approaches the car.

“Hey buddy,” I say out of habit as he climbs into the passenger seat and puts his overstuffed backpack on the floor between his feet.

“Hi,” he responds, in a monotone voice completely lacking in enthusiasm.

I put the car in drive and begin pulling forward.

“What’s up?”

“I just want to get out of here and go home.”

“Did something happen today?”

No reply. I glance over and see him staring straight ahead with a visibly clenched jaw. He appears to be channeling his nervous energy into urging me to drive faster.

“Are you ok?”

“I’m fine,” he says unconvincingly, “just a long day.”

“Ok that’s fine, you can take some down time when we get home. Do you have much homework tonight?”

“A little, not too much.”

I allow the conversation to lapse and shift my focus to the task of driving home. But I wonder what he’s not telling me. After the next turn I resist the impulse to ask him again what is on his mind. Maybe if I keep quiet just long enough he will volunteer some additional information.

We approach the final traffic light before entering our neighborhood and are now less than 5 minutes from home.

“You know you can tell me if something is bothering you?”

No response, not even a half turn of the head. He’s got his phone in one hand and is navigating it faster than humanly possible with his thumb. Rather than texting his friends or looking at something in particular he seems to be distracting himself. I continue to drive in silence as we pass the park that sits at the bottom of our cul-de-sac.

“Do you know about the protests going on at school?,” he asks suddenly.

“I saw an email about it today from the principal but I didn’t have a chance to read it. What’s going on?”

“There’s a rumor going around that kids from other schools are coming to join the protests tomorrow. And some of them might bring weapons.”

I nonchalantly push the button above the rear view mirror to open the garage as I pull into the driveway.

“Are you afraid?”

“Kind of, yeah,” he says. “Some of my friends and I are talking about staying home tomorrow. Just to be safe.”

This catches me off guard and I’m not sure how to respond.

“Wow, it sounds like I should read that email to find out more.”

My son gets out of the car, closes the passenger door behind him and walks into the house. I wait a moment before following behind him, closing the garage door on my way inside.

A few minutes later I open my email and read the message. The student protests at school are related to the Black Lives Matter protests that have been taking place around the country this year. The message is carefully worded and explains that while the administration supports the students’ right to free speech, they will not tolerate any disruption of normal school activities.

The political neutrality of the message hits me between the eyes. Our town is home to a large state university and is full of progressives who support the BLM movement. But instead of seizing on the opportunity to bring this important conversation into the classroom, the administration prefers to keep the issues at arms’ length.

I am very irritated and suddenly find myself criticizing the school administration in the privacy of my mind.

I close the email and my thoughts return to my son and his fear. I have no way of knowing if the rumors about other students showing up tomorrow are true, let alone the possibility that some might bring weapons with them.

What I do know is that I need to talk to him now that I’ve read the principal’s message and ask him more about how he is feeling. If he is afraid to go to school then that is all that really matters. The larger issues can wait.

I change clothes, gather my thoughts and then approach my son through the open door to his bedroom. He is wearing his wireless headphones. I cannot see his computer screen so I do not know if he is doing homework or playing video games.

“Hey buddy, is this a good time to talk?”

“Not really. I’m playing a game with my friends before starting my homework.”

“Ok well, do you want to talk some more about the protests at school? I just finished reading the email from the principal.”

My son doesn’t take off his headphones or stop playing his game. In fact he responds without looking away from his computer screen.

“I mean, not really. I just don’t want to be there if it might get violent. And neither do my friends. Their moms said they can stay home tomorrow, so can I?”

I pause for a second before responding. I didn’t expect to delve into the bigger issues but I thought we might discuss the rumored threats of violence before moving on to the question about staying home tomorrow.

“Let me talk to mom about it when she gets home, ok?”

“Ok.”

My son continues playing his video game as I walk away. I already know that my wife will support him if he wants to stay home tomorrow. She won’t think twice about it, especially if she confirms that the other moms are allowing their sons to stay home.

It goes without saying that both of us support the BLM movement. Moreover, although we have not talked about it, I know that we both admire the courage of those students who are protesting on school grounds.

In fact we might have participated in the community BLM protests ourselves last summer if not for the pandemic. Hey wait a minute! Since we didn't even consider protesting because of the risk of contracting Covid, it makes perfect sense to let our son stay home tomorrow. Health and safety come first, right?

I immediately feel relieved as the clarity sinks in. When my wife gets home we will still discuss it, of course, but now I am confident that we will be on the same page.

The next morning, as expected, our son stays home from school. I wake up absurdly early as usual, take a hot shower and get dressed for work. I make a pot of coffee, then a bowl of cereal with fresh fruit and, after the coffee pot emits one last dramatic cough of steam, I pour myself a large cup with cream.

I sit down at the dining room table in front of my laptop and peruse my usual handful of bookmarked websites. The fresh coffee tastes wonderful.

The local newspaper site is one that I visit but not because it is actually worth my time. My wife recently subscribed for access to local reports about the pandemic because it pertains indirectly to her work at the university.

I usually take a quick look at the headlines before checking the obituaries to see if anyone I know died yesterday. But this morning is an exception.

Local Official Calls Black Lives Matter Protesters ‘A bunch of criminals’

I click through and read the story. Last night during a public meeting a city councilman in a neighboring town called the BLM protesters criminals and further stated that the vast majority of residents are fed up with all of the ruckus.

I react with instinctive disgust. The picture of the councilman accompanying the story confirms my suspicion that he is an old white guy who looks completely out of touch with the reasons why people are taking to the streets. What an idiot.

I quickly click away without giving it another thought. It never occurs to me that there might be a resemblance between the councilman’s words and the contents of yesterday’s email from my son’s high school principal.

An hour or so later I arrive at my office and begin setting up for a full day of client appointments. I scan my schedule for people that I dread seeing but thankfully don’t find any. I chat with my business partner about what each of us did the evening before. She tells me that she had a brief text conversation with one of her sons, both of who live overseas. Nothing brightens her day like hearing from her kids.

I give her the rundown on my evening: I made dinner and then my wife and I relaxed by watching an episode of our current Netflix series. Then I got tired and went to bed early, presumably because I wake up so early. Nothing new or exciting to report. Just another low key evening at home during a pandemic.

I fail to mention the protests at my son’s school or the fact that he is at home today due to rumors of potential violence. I am not purposely withholding this information; it simply does not occur to me. In hindsight I suppose there is no need for additional drama, especially before a full day of doing virtual therapy.

Part way through the morning, in between sessions, I get a text from my son at home. It is a screenshot of the weather forecast for the upcoming weekend, which looks perfectly lovely. Underneath he added a question.

“Fishing this weekend?”

My fingers start typing immediately because I do not need to think before answering. My heart fills with excitement.

“Of course!”

Over the past few months my son has taken to trout fishing in a big way. It is an activity that we’ve done many times as a family, ever since the kids were little, but the youngest usually seemed lukewarm on it. This year he has become completely addicted and the two of us go as often as possible.

When I get home from work that evening we sit down to family dinner, courtesy of my wife, whose oven fried chicken drumsticks and tenders are a longtime favorite. Over dinner I tell her that our son and I plan to go fishing on Saturday and she says that sounds like a great idea.

By then I had completely forgotten about the rumors that kept our son at home all day. And neither my wife or our son brought the subject up for discussion.

On Saturday morning I wake up as early as usual and my son emerges from his room soon afterwards. By now we have an established routine on the mornings when we go fishing: I make us turkey and cheese sandwiches and pack the cooler bag with snacks and drinks. My son loads the rods, nets, creel, fish cooler, and wader boxes into the back of the van.

We leave the house around 6:00. It will take us a little less than two hours to reach our first destination trout stream, which means that we have a decent chance of arriving before any other fishermen.

At this hour we make excellent time. Our route takes advantage of the state’s beautiful two lane county highways, which carry little traffic. The weather is ideal as predicted, and the sunrise creates a stunningly bright orange ball of fire for our viewing pleasure as we drive north and slightly east.

Another of our new traditions is to stop a convenience store, or c-store as they are now commonly known, just before going to the stream. I usually need to use the bathroom and my son gets a second chance to get night crawlers for the day in case he forgets one of the many boxes of worms that he keeps in our garage fridge.

Because the trout streams are almost all located in rural areas, the c-stores are in small towns. Ordinarily this is irrelevant but during the pandemic it is not. I pull into the parking lot and we take a moment to put on masks before going inside.

We are often the only people wearing masks because most everyone in this politically conservative state, especially in rural areas, thinks that masks are stupid and unnecessary. They claim that the pandemic is a hoax and/or they view mask wearing as a sign of weakness among liberal folks who, for some crazy reason, believe in science and trust their government officials.

Generally speaking we do not consider it a problem if we are the only mask wearers in the store. We are there to use the bathroom and perhaps buy some worms, and we try to protect ourselves from Covid while doing so.

This morning when we enter the store I notice a group of four men sitting together in a booth, drinking coffee and chatting. Unsurprisingly none of them are wearing masks, and neither is the young man behind the register.

As I walk by the booth on my way to the bathroom the men stop talking and glare at me. I keep moving but realize that my mask is the source of intrigue that abruptly halted their chatter.

I proceed to the bathroom, exit back into the store a few moments later, and look for my son amidst the overstuffed aisles. It takes me a moment to find him but when I do I see a bag of his favorite mini chocolate donuts in his hand. Personally I think those donuts taste like candle wax but I agree to buy them for him anyway.

We approach the register and wait briefly behind the customer in front of us. As we stand there I glance over toward the booth where the four men have returned to their conversation. The customer in front of us finishes paying, tells the cashier to ‘have a good one,’ and heads for the door.

My son and I step toward the counter where he puts down his bag of donuts while I remove the debit card from its slot on the back of my phone case. In a few minutes we will be on the water, casting for trout. As the word ‘Approved’ flashes on the card reader, a voice rises toward us from the booth just a few feet away.

“You all from around here?”

At first I pretend not to have heard anything. I put my debit card away, my son picks up his bag of donuts and we walk towards the door. Then that same voice interrupts our progress, only louder and with greater urgency this time.

“You all are not from around here, are you?”

I turn and look at the man who spoke and I suddenly feel acutely self-conscious of my face mask. I know that if we keep right on walking there probably won’t be any trouble, but for some reason I stop instead.

“Nope we’re not.”

“Thought so. Where are you from?”

“University City.”

We turn toward the door, which my son pushes open, and I am right behind him. But the man in the booth continues his badgering.

“Figures! You libs and your masks! Who told you to wear those? Barak F’n Obama?”

I keep walking without turning around. As we reach the van my son sees the irritation on my face. He also notices my hesitation as I unlock the door. He senses that I am thinking about going back inside and saying something to the badger.

“Dad, let’s just go.”

We get in the van and I insert the key into the ignition. We are 10 minutes from the stream on a picture perfect day. All I need to do is turn the key and drive away.

I know that is exactly what I should do but I cannot seem to let the incident go. I am aware that saying something to the badger will not change anything. In fact it is likely to provoke him further, and who knows where that might lead?

Nevertheless, the surge of anger inside my body feels disconnected from my brain. It gnaws at me fiercely and seems unignorable. Then a question enters my mind, and instead of passing through it sticks around for further consideration.

What am I teaching my son?

My son wants to leave. He wants to fish, and so do I, but I am hesitating.

“Please dad. Let’s go fishing!”

I turn and look at him, our eyes lock onto each other, and I register his plea. I know he is right but I cannot just leave. First I have to say something to the badger.

“You stay here. I’ll be right out.”

“Dad, don’t!”

I put my mask back on, get out of the van and slam the driver’s side door without meaning to. I walk toward the store, pull the door open and walk inside. I take a few steps toward the booth where the four men are still sitting.

The badger looks up and seems genuinely surprised to see me again. He cracks a smile. My presence confirms that he successfully baited me.

At first I am not sure what to say but in the heat of the moment I use my son as a handy excuse for returning. I point my index finger at him.

“Listen bub,” I blurt out from behind my mask. “I have just as much right to wear a mask as you have to not wear one. We’re both free to choose, so let’s just leave it at that, huh? You don’t want me getting in your business and I don’t need you talking that way in front of my son. Ok?”

The badger looks at me, his head tilted to one side, and appears to be gathering his thoughts. Or maybe he is deciding to skip the small talk and show me what his fist might do to my face.

“Not ok. Not ok at all man.”

He stands up, swats the guy next to him on the shoulder as a cue to be let out of the booth, and he steps toward me. The badger is a couple of inches taller than me and probably outweighs me by at least 40 pounds. He does not point any fingers because he senses that he does not need to in order to hold my attention.

“Why don’t you go back to Lib Town where you come from before I knock you back there with my own two hands. Huh? Bub?”

I want to hold my ground without showing any signs of weakness, but standing up to big angry guys is not my specialty. I’m not much of a fighter; I’m a middle aged dad who makes a living by empathizing with people. I wanted to speak up, which I have now done, but at this point I have no further plans.

I turn my head and look out through the door window towards the van, where I see my son looking in my direction. Through two panes of glass he pleads with me to come back so we can go fishing.

I am standing in uncharted territory. The badger and his threatening words hang over me. He awaits my next move.

This is the moment when I have to choose between bad options: pretending to be a hero and getting my face bashed in or walking away unharmed and feeling like a loser.

I feel the adrenaline pumping, urging me not to back down, but unlike a few moments ago my brain suppresses those primitive impulses.

I turn my body to match the direction of my gaze and walk out of the store. The badger says something behind me, trying to bait me again, but this time his words do not register. I keep walking, get inside the van, and drive away.

“What did you say to that guy?,” my son asks.

“Oh nothing. I probably shouldn’t have gone back inside. But he really pissed me off and sometimes you have to say something even if it seems like a waste of time.”

“What’s the point of saying something if it won’t do any good?”

I look over at my son, who is 15 years old going on 25 from the neck down, but still very much a teenage boy from the neck up. He watches me closely, ready to take in every word that I am about to say. This is a rare moment.

“It’s just the right thing to do, buddy. You have to speak up to guys like that because if you don’t they go on thinking that everyone agrees with their stupid ideas. They’re really just grown up bullies. We may not be able to change their minds but we can show them that some people won’t back down so easily.”

My son listens intently but says nothing further as I turn off of the two lane highway and onto a poorly maintained dirt road. I slow down and try to avoid the ruts but the van shakes up and down anyway.

At the end of the dirt road, on the left, is the entrance to a Christian bible camp. The county park with access to the trout stream is on the right. I pull into a parking spot, turn off the ignition and we get out. We meet at the back of the van and I pull up the hatch so we can gear up.

We do not speak as we put on our neoprene waders and boots. My son takes out the rods and nets while I finish tying my laces. I can still feel the adrenaline washing through my body, although it is slowly dissipating. I stand up, close the hatch and double click the key fob to lock the van.

“Let’s go catch some trout dad!”

That sounds glorious to me. I smile as we walk down the trail together in the direction of the first fishing spot, my body feeling calmer with each step. The only thing on my mind is what a perfect day it is and how grateful I am to share it with my son.
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