I had to write three short stories for my fiction writing class. Two that I wrote were meant to be funny. This one was my attempt at writing something serious. This idea for a story has been floating around in my head for several years, so I was glad to get it down on paper. However, it wasn’t as well received by my classmates as the funny stories were, so maybe I should stick to humor.
A Fishing Story
Allen’s last memory was of lying on the lumpy twin bed in his efficiency apartment, watching a ballgame on the little black and white TV, while drinking shots of whiskey – lots and lots of shots.
But now, even with his eyes closed, he knew he wasn’t there anymore. He could tell he was lying on the ground outdoors. He could feel the uneven earth and twigs and grass under him, and the smell of damp vegetation was strong.
Allen cautiously pried his matter-crusted eyes open. It took them a minute to focus. But when they did, he realized he was lying on the ground in the middle of a woods. As he carefully moved his aching head, he could see nothing but trees in every direction. How had he gotten here?
Had there been an accident? Had he driven his car blasted again? After the last time, when he had almost hit a jogger, he had promised himself he would never drink and then drive again. But, apparently he had; how else could he have gotten here?
He slowly pushed himself to a sitting position. His eyes came into sharper focus, and his headache even began to go away. Well, if he had been in an accident, it didn’t feel like he’d been hurt. He slowly got to his feet and checked himself out – he couldn’t see any cuts or scrapes. In fact, he was feeling stronger by the minute. He was surprised that he suddenly felt better than he had in weeks.
So, if he’d had an accident, where was his car? He stood perfectly still, and listened to see if he could hear any sounds of cars on a nearby road. He didn’t hear any road sounds, but he did realize there was a sound of rushing water. He must be near the river close to the house! He had taken the kids there many times to fish, when he’d still lived at home.
In his drunken stupor, had he automatically headed for “home?” “Huh, that’s pathetic,” he said out loud and shook his head. Marla had made it very clear that he wasn’t welcome there any more, or at least, as she had shouted that last day, “until you grow up and act like a responsible husband and father!” Well, “old habits die hard,” so maybe he had automatically headed for the place his heart still called home.
Allen looked around again. He didn’t recognize this part of the woods, so he started walking toward the river. He would get his bearings from there.
As he walked, the sound of the water grew louder and he thought he could hear voices. Maybe someone there could give him a ride.
Shortly, he came out of the woods at the river, but it wasn’t the familiar river he had expected. In fact, it was unlike any river he had ever seen before. All he could do was just stand there and take in the scene before him.
A large, powerfully-built man stood on the bank methodically casting a line into the rough, fast-moving waters, not appearing distracted by the spray from the churning water, the roar of the falls just a few yards away or the din of voices. Several men stood silently behind the fisherman watching expectantly.
Suddenly, a strange sensation came over Allen. He began experiencing thoughts and feelings that weren’t his own, and he knew somehow with certainty that they were coming from the fisherman. He could suddenly feel the single-minded sense of urgency that the fisherman was feeling.
Allen thought, “He knows how important his task is to the people. He is the only one who is equipped to do the fishing. He must do it as fast as he can, before the catch is lost over the falls.”
It was obvious the fisherman was an expert; he wasted no motion. But, even when a cast was straight and true, many times the line came back empty. When that happened, Allen could feel the fisherman’s feelings of regret and sadness.
Allen “knew” as if he’d been told, “There were so many. If only he could catch them all, but the fisherman knew he couldn’t. But, he would never waiver in his resolve to catch as many as he could – the people were depending on him.”
As Allen walked closer he realized the voices he had heard were coming from the water! He stared in awe – it was filled with people, many of them seemingly oblivious to the falls they were being swept toward, and the certainty of death. Over there, some young girls were actually chatting and enjoying themselves, as if they were taking an afternoon swim, totally ignoring the fisherman. There, a grumpy-looking older man was so busy criticizing everyone around him, “Quit pushing! Get out of my way! Keep your voices down!” so that he didn’t even see the lifeline when it was thrown in his direction. A man Allen recognized as an Olympic swimming champion saw the lifeline but swam away from it toward the falls, depending on his own strength to survive. There were many who were striving for the lifeline, but some of them lost interest and swam away without grabbing it.
Over and over the fisherman would throw the lifeline, unerringly, near one of the people and if they grabbed hold, he would quickly pull that one in, and the men standing behind him would welcome them and wrap them in a warm, beautiful white robe. Then that person would join the group gathered behind the men that Allen now saw was a huge throng of white-robed people – men, women and children – of every age, color and nationality, all praying and singing songs of praise, and watching expectantly for the next “catch” to join them. The glow from so many assembled white robes hurt Allen’s eyes it was so bright, and the songs they sang were the most beautiful he had ever heard.
He suddenly understood. He knew this Fisherman. He was the “Fisher of Men” Allen had learned about in Sunday school. But, why was Allen seeing and feeling all this? Was he dead? Was this Heaven? If he was in Heaven, why didn’t he have a white robe and why wasn’t he part of the singing throng?
He turned back toward the river and looked at the people in the water again, and he realized that he knew many of the people there. There was Aunt Millie, there was Dr. Bateman, there, there was — his family! He watched with tears in his eyes as the Fisherman pulled Marla and then James and then Maddy to shore. Allen was overwhelmed with feelings of thankfulness and joy that his family was all saved.
At that moment, for the first time, the Fisherman turned and looked Allen directly in the eye. He didn’t say anything, but Allen felt a powerful emotion in those eyes specifically involving him. Was it regret or was it relief? He couldn’t tell. Then the Fisherman turned back to his task.
Next the Fisherman threw the line to a man struggling to stay afloat. The rushing water swept him closer. Now Allen could see the face – it was him! The Fisherman cast the lifeline toward the thrashing man. At first, he didn’t see it. Then he saw it, but he seemed confused and unsure whether to grab it or not. He was going to miss it! Allen wanted to yell, “Grab the lifeline! Grab hold – it’s your only chance – don’t you see the falls?” But he couldn’t make a sound. All he could do was watch helplessly. And then, at the last possible second, he saw himself reach up toward the lifeline. He could feel the muscles in his arms stretching to reach the line — but he was almost past it, in a second it would be out of reach! He tried stretching even harder one more time – he could feel every muscle in his body painfully straining, trying to reach the lifeline before he was swept over the falls. Just a few more inches — reach! – reach! And then . . . .
Allen awoke with a start. He was bathed in cold sweat. He had spilled the rest of whiskey on the tattered, thin blanket on the bed, so there was a nauseatingly sweet smell of sweat mixed with booze. The ball game must be over; an infomercial was on now. And then he was shocked when he looked at the travel clock on the wobbly little table and it said 5:36 a.m.! It was morning! He must have passed out and slept through the night. It had been a dream. Thank you, God, it had been a dream.
He jumped up and grabbed the phone. He knew Marla and the kids would be sleeping, but he was filled with such a powerful need to talk to them and care for them and love them that he couldn’t wait to call – he had to do it now!
Marla answered on the third ring. “Hello,” she whispered in her husky, just woke up, voice.
“Marla, it’s Allen. I’m sorry to call so early but I have to talk to you right away.”
Marla was instantly, fully awake. “Allen, what’s the matter? What’s wrong? Has something happened to you?”
Allen said, “No, Marla. Nothing’s wrong. In fact, I feel really good. And, before you ask, no, I’m not drunk. I have something really important to tell you. Can I please come over?”
“Marla, please listen. I finally feel like I can give up my ‘whiskey crutch’ and, if you’ll give me another chance, I know now I’m ready to be the husband and father you and the kids deserve.”
Still silence; and then, a sound of teary, uneven breathing.
Marla cleared her throat and regained her composure, “Allen, I can’t tell you how much I want to believe those words. How many times I have prayed for you to say those words. But, I’m so afraid to hope. Please don’t say them if you don’t really mean them.”
“Mar, I mean them with all my heart. I suddenly feel an overwhelming need to heal my relationships — with you and the kids, and with God. If you will take me on as a ‘project’ just one more time, I promise I’ll work and love and pray and appreciate with every fiber in my body.
Again, there was silence. Maybe it was too late. Maybe he had tested Marla’s love one too many times.
Finally, Marla said, with a first glimmer of hope in her voice, “Okay. Come for lunch. The kids will be at your mom’s, so we can talk. I will not give them false hope before we’ve talked this out. If you’re going to come home, I want it to be for good. They need their daddy so bad, but I don’t want them just to have you back for a little while – it has to be all or nothing.”
Relief and hope flooded Allen. “That’s what I want too, Marla. I’ll be there at noon. Good-bye. . . . Wait! Just one more thing. Marla, even through all this, I never stopped loving you. Do you believe me?”
“Yes, even with all that’s happened, I’ve always known you love me, and I’ve always loved you. And, it’s only because I know that that I think there might be hope for us. We’ll talk when you get here, Allen.”
“Okay, I’ll be there. Oh, and, Marla, let’s take a walk down by the river after lunch, okay? I have a fishing story I’d like to tell you.”