By Andrew Hahn
It is the first nice day in a while. Mom is still sleeping. She is hung over. I eat Honey Smacks in the living room with PopPop. He is watching a news talk show and eating a cinnamon twist pastry he got from the bakery yesterday after work. He drinks coffee from a Christmas mug with reindeer on it, even though Christmas was four months ago.
“Hey,” he says turning off the TV. “Do you want to go fishing?”
“Yeah,” I reply. I eat my cereal and drink the milk before placing it in the kitchen sink. “Should I ask Tyler if he wants to come too?”
“No,” he says. “Leave your brother here. This is just for me and you. Go put on your jacket. I’ll be out by the garage.”
“Okay!” I run upstairs and slowly open the bedroom door. Mom is sleeping on the farther of the two beds. She is facing the door. Drool goops from her mouth and she snores softly when she exhales like a puppy growl. I see the red cap from the Smirnoff bottle poking out from underneath the bed. I want to throw it out, but instead I grab my red fleece zip jacket and tiptoe out of the room. The door latch clicks shut, and I leap down the stairs and run out the back door to where PopPop is waiting for me.
He is holding two fishing poles. One is a kid’s pole with a button release. The other is the adult kind where you have to hold down the line, flip the release, then cast. I know how to use that one, but I don’t think he knows that.
“Yeah!” I notice that he doesn’t have his car keys. “Where are we going?”
“To a secret place in the back.” He leads me back past the wooden pool area and the trailer attached to it where they keep all their junk. Past the lines of trees like an orange grove and into where the willow tree stands with her green, straight hair. Behind the willow is a long rusted gate, which is hidden behind spikey bushes with flowers and bugs. It leads to a dirt path lined with grass and tall, round bushes. We walk down the trail slowly as if to show nature we are a part of it and want to be one with it. We amble over the knolls and we are on a path that is in the middle of a sweeping pasture. Cows graze unrestricted and mosey slowly over the green. A brown, dog ear fence lines the far end of the pasture. A black and white dog barks and runs circles around the cows who act like they can’t hear it.
“It’s right up over here,” PopPop says.
We come up on an oasis—a pond. A tree arches over it and its branches hang like a green chandelier. Small plants grow out of a beached rowboat. At the edge of the path are large, smooth stones perfect for sitting, which we climb on and ready our lines.
“Where are the worms?” I ask.
He pulls out a sandwich bag of bread from his jacket pocket. “We’re going to use this instead,” he says. We ready our hooks and cast our lines into the center of the water. The red and white bobs float on the wind ripples.
“You know,” he says. “You can’t fix your mother.”
“I know,” I say.
“I see you trying and worrying about it all the time, but it’s not your responsibility. She has to realize it herself. She just can’t stop the drinking and drugs. Have you heard that the first step to change is recognizing you have a problem?”
“No.” My bobs sinks but comes right back up. No catch.
“We can tell her she needs help all we want, but she has to be the one to recognize it. It’s different with addicts.”
“Then I guess someone telling her that drinking and drugs are bad only makes her want to do them more,” I say. “Like a kid.”
“Exactly,” PopPop says. “She lives in her own world where she doesn’t understand consequences.”
“I don’t understand that.”
“That’s because you have a good head on your shoulders. Stay that way.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and shakes me to make sure my head is on there tight.
I get a nibble on my line. The bob sinks and starts to swim away in the mouth of my catch. I pull up to hook the fish, but my bob flies out of the water. The hook is empty.
“Aw, man,” I say.
“It’s okay,” PopPop says. His line pulls and he effortlessly reels in a catfish. It’s dark and ugly, gasping for breath as PopPop holds him securely between the dorsal and pectoral fins so he doesn’t get stung. The fish’s mouth opens and I imagine him wheezing. Its gills like vents flap open to suck whatever moisture he can from the air. PopPop unhooks it and lets it go. I don’t want to fish anymore.
“Can we go?” I ask.
We secure our poles and walk back down the paths, through the rusty gates, past the willow, the trees, the trailer and pool, and back to the house. I wait with him while he puts the poles away in the garage. He takes out the extra bread and gives it to me. I eat it. I go inside.
Mom is downstairs watching Roseanne on TV Land.
“Where were you?” she asks.
“Out fishing with PopPop.” I start to go upstairs.
“That doesn’t sound very fun.”
“It was,” I say. “It was very nice.”
I went into our room to take off my jacket. I cross to the bottle of Smirnoff and put it in a different place where I think she won’t find it.