fish tales


i remember a day when my parents and i brought a white paint bucket and a fishing rod to the dam and strung worms on hooks and threw them into the water all day long, and caught nothing. i remember watching my father tie the worms in knots so they wouldn't fall off. i remember the dingy water that smelled like rotten fish.

we watched in disbelief as a group further down pulled fish after fish from the water, catfish that scraped the mud off the bottom of the lake and came up squirming. they'd always throw them back, until they noticed us staring. after a while, they started keeping the ones they caught in their cooler once they'd finished their lunch, and when they were leaving, they dumped the whole cooler-full into our bucket.

maybe we really did look hungry.

my mother made fish head soup, putting a cut, gape-mouthed, greyish face in my bowl so i would have the most nutritious parts. i didn't like seeing it.

once, a summer flood came and went so fast that the sides of the road were full of fish, still flopping. my father's baby brother was visiting us; he yelled for the car to stop, then jumped out and scooped fish into his shirt. 'fish soup for dinner, fish soup for dinner!' my father's family grew up on starvation rations during the great leap forward, and once tricked one of the other brothers into eating sheep droppings by first saying they were candy, then saying they were special medicine. i didn't know if picking half-dead fish from the muddy ditch was also a joke.

years later, i followed the farm dad around during his evening chores, and he pulled a bass from a bucket; it was still alive, but he needed to dress it for dinner. he cut into it on the chopping block next to the chicken shed, eying me over the wet ripping sounds that i was fascinated to listen to. 'i'm not sure your parents would want you seeing this,' he said.

'why not? we've had fish before.'

it was grilled whole, but i had to go home before it was time to eat.

08 February 2018 21:59


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