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My Fish Story

It was in the 20th century, when I was 10 years old and my brother was 12.  As adolescent boys sometimes do, he became enamored of the manly sport of fishing and decided to try it.  He got a pole, and a line, and hooks, and a tackle box, and lead weights, and stuff.  My grandmother had a house by the shore.  There was a pier where people fished.

For his first-ever fishing trip, Dad got him some worms and drove him to the pier.  I tagged along to see what this fishing thing was all about.  Brother put the lead weight and the hook on his line.  Then he put the worm on the hook -- or tried to.  The worm had other ideas!  It wanted to live; it did not *want* to be the bait.  Perhaps Brother had not expected this.  He struggled with the hook and worm for a while, and eventually managed to skewer his finger with the hook.  Happens all the time, but Brother had not expected this and was very embarrassed.  Also, the hook was dirty and it hurt a lot.

Dad cut the hook from the line and drove us back to Grandma's house, to see if any of his tools would help remove the hook.  But fishhooks are designed not to come out, no matter how hard the fish tries to escape, so everything Dad did just made it hurt more.  Eventually Mom decided that medical attention was required.  Grandma's house was far from ours and was not where she had lived when she had young children; we did not know any pediatricians in this area.  Grandma suggested the regional hospital, which was perhaps a ½-hour drive.  So we all piled into the car and drove towards this hospital that none of us had been to before, with Brother wincing at every bump and trying to hide his finger so nobody could see how ridiculous it looked, with a fishhook and some line stuck in it.

Since her son was in pain, Mom was agitated while driving.  Grandma suggested that this could be considered a medical emergency, with cause to exceed the speed limit, so Mom gradually drove faster and faster.  Eventually we were flagged down by a police officer.  Mom tried to explain that her son was in pain, and she had decided to drive him herself instead of calling an ambulance, but the cop wasn't buying it.  So I told my brother, "Quick!  Raise your finger so he can see it!"  But Brother was embarrassed and didn't want to.  I grabbed his arm and raised the finger up high.  The policeman stared at it for a moment, then his demeanor changed.  He wanted to know why we were going to the far-away hospital instead of the local infirmary.  Well, because we didn't know about the infirmary!  He offered to lead us there, with his lights flashing.  Mom agreed.

At the infirmary, there was a bit of a wait, then some med-tech came out and removed the hook -- by pushing it all the way through the finger!  Gee, Dad could have done that with his tools at home.  What we had needed the med-tech for was her confidence that this was indeed the only way.  I don't exactly remember (this was many years ago), but perhaps some antibiotics were prescribed as a prophylactic.

Time passed.  Eventually Brother gathered enough courage for another try at fishing.  More worms.  Another drive to the pier.  I tagged along again.  This time Brother forcefully installed the bait on the hook, while ignoring its wormy feelings, and was successful.  He fished for a while, and caught something.  It was a gigantic fish!  Everybody at the pier was calling it a "fluke", which I thought then was a species of fish, but actually they were talking about how unlikely it was that Brother -- on his first real try -- would catch something so much bigger than what everybody else was getting.  Actually it was a flounder.  It weighed a few pounds.   It was a decent-sized fish, a giant only in comparison with other fish from that pier.

Dad cut the fish from the line.  Brother held the fish, but it wriggled out of his hands and started fishtailing across the pier, heading back towards the water.  It wanted to *live*!  I grabbed the fish before it could jump off the pier, and held it firmly in my, um, paws?  Suddenly there were two of me.  There was the little-boy me and there was the animal me.  We were different, but we were in agreement that the fish must not escape.  Animal-me was very strong and (it seemed) effortlessly exerted steady muscle pressure so the fish could not jump out of our grasp.

The animal me seemed furry, especially in the head area.  Perhaps I thought momentarily of Eddie Munster, the werewolf boy, because he was sometimes furry and had a widow's peak, as did I then.  When I look back on it now, the idea of holding a fish in one's paws seems very ursine, but at the time it felt like the most natural thing in the world to be doing.

Other people came to look at Brother's fish in my hands, and I talked to them, which distracted me.  I loosened my grip and the fish jumped.  I grabbed it in midair, in what seemed to me the fastest move I had ever made up to that time.  I gripped the fish tightly again, but my finger-muscles were getting tired.  I had been lucky once, but if the fish jumped again, that could be the end.  Since there were people watching, I self-consciously talked to the fish: "You're not going anywhere!  You are dinner!"  I walked over to a fencepost on the pier and whacked the fish's head against it, thinking that would knock it out like on TV.  It continued to struggle.

I was starting to get worried that my dinner would escape.  I got angry.  I no longer cared about the people watching.  It was just me and the fish.  I spoke to it again, saying something like, "Did you hear me?  YOU ARE DINNER!"  I did a little roundhouse thing and slammed the fish's head against the fencepost with everything I had, which -- being geeky and ten years old -- wasn't much.  The fish stayed still for a time, perhaps a minute.  I examined its head.  No sign of broken bones, no bodily fluids oozing.  I had barely scratched it.  Eventually it started wriggling again, but weakly.  This could be a problem.  I must not lose my kill!  Yes, *my* kill.  Brother had caught it, but he seemed to have no interest in killing it.

I walked toward where Dad was talking to some other fisherman, and said "What a spunky fish!  How are we going to kill this thing?"  I was conscious of the fishermen looking at boy-me and animal-me, walking along with a wriggling fish in our hands/paws, but again it seemed the most natural thing in the world, and even something to be proud of, having just demonstrated murderous rage towards a fish in front of a bunch of strangers.

The other fishermen suggested putting the fish in a bucket of water and taking it home, so we did.  But the water revived the fish and it jumped out of the bucket, so we dumped the water and put it in a dry bucket.  By the time we got home, it was dead.

So we had this dead fish, and of course it had to be eaten for dinner.  Cleaning the fish became Grandma's problem.  I stayed with her in the kitchen as she worked on the fish, because fish-cleaning suddenly seemed like something I should know about, although I usually had little interest in cooking.  She was not happy.  Why did it have to be *her* job to clean the fish?  I explained that no one else in the family knew how to do it, and asked her various questions, like "What would happen if you didn't remove all the scales before cooking?"

The fish was baked and served.  Sister, who generally wasn't fond of fish, exclaimed that it was the best fish she'd ever had, presumably because it was also the freshest.  Grandma asked Brother to speak about his day, but he gave only an unemotional statement of his fishing experience.  I continued his story, but when I got to the murderous-rage part, Brother seemed to lose interest in his dinner.  Mom suggested that maybe I was bragging too much about my rôle.  "What's to brag?" I asked.  "I got nowhere trying to kill this guy," while pointing to the skinless boneless white thing on my fork.  Dad thought that maybe "killing" wasn't suitable dinnertime conversation.  "Shouldn't we honor our dinner?" I asked.  I talked to my fork: "You were an honorable fish!" I put the fishmeat in my mouth.  Brother seemed quite uncomfortable.

Brother never fished again; nor have I.  Perhaps, in his readings and his watching of TV shows about fishing, he had failed to realize that the fish does not want to be eaten, and will do anything it can to avoid being your dinner.  When the time came, he was not prepared to fight with the fish for its life.  Unexpectedly, I was.

Now I have a boy of my own.  Five years old, almost six.  He has always reminded me of my brother.  Last year he wanted a fishing pole for that December holiday.  I wouldn't get him one.  Now his birthday is coming up and he wants a fishing pole again.  What should I do?  He's still so young.  I've never seen him kill anything, not even an ant.

-- Pyesetz the Dog

(p.s. Recently-rediscovered archaeological evidence -- a dated picture of Brother holding his fish -- indicates that I was actually 6½ years old, not 10, at the time in question.  This indicates that the whole "adolescent boy" aspect of the story is rubbish.  Other parts are probably wrong, too.)