The church bell does not ring as true as it did in winter’s air. Nor is it weighted with spring’s wetness; it rings easily - it is the first real day of summer.
I lay in bed, listening to the day’s approach. It does not come daintily in yellow, silken slippers, but rather clumsily, on dirty, unshorn feet, dressed in patched dungarees and wrinkled t-shirt. It is myself, eager to race the sun above the horizon. It is fishing day.
I count five chimes, one less than my age. In another hour it would be my age, until as the day moved on, it would pass me. But now, at least I was older than time.
I tiptoe down the stairs, past the opened door of my parents. “I hear you,” my father calls out from the darkness.
I freeze, not from fear of my father who’d help me prepare my fishing gear the night before; the one who’d taught me to fish and said he’d wish he could join me. “But, it’s your mama,” he’d gone on to explain. “She’ll need me.”
Mama suffers from what the doctors call melancholia. It came about after my sister, Constance, died a week after coming home from the hospital. It was the beginning of summer, like now, only three years ago.
“I didn’t wake Ma, did I?”
“Don’t worry, son. Go on, have a good time.” I hear rustling in the room.
I hear my mother’s voice; she comes to the door, holding onto the frame as if she might fall. She looks pale, fragile; her blond hair covers her face. She pulls it away from her eyes, looking at me. “Remember what we said about the bait,” she tells me. She then bends down to kiss me
“Yes, ma’am, I do.” And I run to the porch to grab my bamboo pole and make my way toward the river.
I cross the McKinney Bridge to my favorite spot to fish. It is upstream of the bridge and under the canopy of a pecan tree. Most say catching fish is better off the bridge.
Farther upstream, the Baptist are forever baptizing folk in the river. I think their sins collect in the brackish, still water on the down side of the bridge. The water there is so deep, it turns black. Catfish trawl its murky bottom; and some - as rumors have it - are big enough to eat a man.
The church bell chimes six, just as the sun breaks through the leaves and boughs of the forested hills across the river. It is beautiful, purple turning to gold. In the distance, on the road from my house, I see a figure walking toward the bridge.
I sit up to get a better view. My eyes, widened, my heart quickens. It is my mother. She is fully dressed in her favorite blue dress. Her hair brushed up into a swirl behind her neck. Even in the timid light of morning, she is beautiful and I can see a certain peace about her features.
Behind her, another figure is running. Before I make out his face, I hear his voice. It is my father. He’s crying out, “Louisa, no!”
Too soon, my mother is standing on the bridge, on the downside above the deep, dark waters where catfish swim. My father reaches the bridge, arms outstretched, still crying out. She does not turn to him. Silently she jumps and disappears beneath the water. Dad dives in behind her. My world stands still.
I’m now one count older than the twelfth chime from the bell tower, less a boy, more a man. Seasons in our life do that – add and subtract.
I once confessed to my mother I was afraid to use grubs as bait to fish, believing they might drown. She didn’t laugh, but smiled. “Once your hook is beneath the water,” she said, “your beliefs are all you have.” And then she kissed me.
My memory of her and dad are like that, too. A belief cast out in yesterdays - believing we’ll be together again.
Trusting, I'll lay in bed listening to the day’s approach once more. It will not come daintily in yellow, silken slippers, but rather clumsily, on dirty, unshorn feet, dressed in patched dungarees and wrinkled t-shirt. It will be myself, eager to race the sun above the horizon. Our family will be whole, even Constance, and it will be fishing day yet again.
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