I am standing at the edge of Eddy Pond with Pa and a white bucket. He tells me we’re catching fish today. I ask him where the boat is and he doesn’t know, says there’s a patch of mud instead.
He doesn’t give me a fishing rod or show me how to load the bait. I watch the pond and the carcasses of old land that the water swallowed: mossy landbones converted in bird’s nests.
Pa catches his first fish and it’s the size of a turtle’s head. Its bloody eye starts to taint the water in the bucket and I ask Pa if we’ll eat this fish. He says, ‘can’t eat this fish.’
The pond water is brown but it ripples. It’s not cleared for swimming. I think that we should have gone to Carbuncle Pond instead but then I remember Penny and her loud voice and jean jacket and the lizards at my feet. I almost drowned that day because I fell asleep in the water, sort of birth-calm, while my mother sat on a beach chair, low to the ground. When we came home my sister and I urinated painfully and we weren’t allowed to go there ever again. Something about the pH level.
Pa pulls in another fish, a weird fish. It looks at me while its gills bleed. I ask Pa if we’ll eat this fish. He says, ‘can’t eat this fish.’
This new fish has a large eye and when I look through it I can see our kitchen with the linoleum flooring peeling up at the corners. My family, all of us, we’re sitting at a table eating microwaved fish sticks and complaining about the weather. Around my neck is a hook and line carrying fish bones, reassembled like an old fossil. Wearing this puts me at the head of the table and nobody speaks until I do.
It’s grey outside. The clouds do the fish no favors, give their skin no shine. Guess it helps them blend in, like pruned fingers in soap-water. I wonder if their scales are ever clean.
The fishing pole looks relaxed in Pa’s fingers. There are no finger-cuts, no splinters. We used to keep the poles in the closet at home but I touched them too often. Got myself tangled up. Some head shaking and hard work before I was allowed to touch them again. The way Pa stared made me feel like I was in quicksand.
Not the first time I felt that way. My sister told me about quicksand. I started to think my bed could be quicksand, that the floor could be quicksand. One night when I was left home alone, I felt like the whole house was quicksand. I cried in my driveway until my neighbor noticed.
Three fish in the bucket now. I look at Pa, then the fish, then at Pa. I ask him if we can eat that fish. He says, ‘Can’t eat these fish.’
The fish don’t move in the bucket. Just a few twitches. I could grab one and it wouldn’t slip through my fingers. Pa gives me a look. I put my hands in my pockets. He looks past me. I start to walk.
The shore of Eddy Pond is a bunch of tree stumps and weeds. There is a camp there that’s closed now. Three blue buildings with chipped paint and one rusted swing set. Once when we were swimming there a boy told us he saw a snapping turtle. All of us sat on the dock and watched to see if it’d eat his fingers. He was brave. My sister jumped off of the dock and cut her foot on a broken bottle. We talked about it at home for weeks. The kids looked at her like she was sunshine.
I used to imagine there were people in the woods here. One girl who was always running. She’d say she had to hide before they put her on the moon. I never asked who they were. Sometimes at night I look for the shape of her body in the sky. Sometimes I salute.
Pa calls my name in a half-yell as if hoping to lose me. I dig my heels in the mud. It’d be easy to stay here, I think. Make a fire and catch fish, maybe other things. The woods would smell like wet boots and burnt hair. Whatever trash was thrown on the ground that day.
I walk to Pa’s red truck and he isn’t in it. The bucket is placed on the front seat, where I’d sit normally, meaning I’d have to hold it to my lap on the ride home.
I look in the bucket and at the weird fish, which now shows me its other eye. I tell it a story about how the bucket water is clean water and how Eddy Pond has snapping turtles and broken beer bottles at the bottom. The weird fish burps.
I imagine the bucket has the other fishes’ skeletons, perfectly intact. The weird fish presenting their bones.
Pa opens the truck door. He sits and touches the radio and settles on the baseball game.
‘What’s the capital of New Mexico?’ he asks.
‘Santa Fe’ I say.
He turns the key. The bucket shakes with the start of the engine and makes the water move. The fish swim in circles. The weird fish blinks.
He puts his foot on the gas and we go backwards. The pond gets smaller. The fish do too. Perhaps they’re dancing now that the truck is gone. Maybe they’re having a meeting.
We’re almost home. Eddy Pond is a short walk, shorter drive. The sun doesn’t come through the trees here. The walk is full of horseflies.
We pull into the driveway.
Pa brings the bucket into the kitchen. Ma and sister come to look. Pa tells them they’re yellow perch. I listen. He says there was too much milfoil. I listen. My sister reaches into the bucket.
I go upstairs to start the bath, step on the rotten floorboards. Too much water damage, probably from splashing. Sometimes I play drowning and kick my feet like flippers. Ma usually gives me a look.
I wash quick and put on my pajamas. My sister gets in next and shares my water. I sit on the rug near the tub and pick at the peeling floor.
‘What’s the capital of New Mexico?’ I ask.
‘Santa Fe’, she says.
I tell her that last one is wrong and leave the bathroom. Ma comes in next to hand her a towel straight from the dryer. I watch. Their hair curls the same way, dark and swampy. Pieces stick to their cheeks like mud.
The tub is still full. The water is grey. I imagine the weird fish is in there, hiding. The drain-plug still in and trapping it. I climb back in.
Sometimes when I put my head underwater it sounds like waves. The same sound of holding a shell to your ear but with muffled voices in the background.
Ma walks in and sees my soaked pajamas, their red dye staining the water. She shakes her head and leaves. The water in the fabric makes me heavy, like my limbs are caught in weeds. I feel on display here and wonder if they ate the fish. There were three fish. I didn’t say goodbye to the weird fish, but it’s used to that. I’m sure it was okay.