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December 1, 2011 | Fiction

Shoaling

Gary L. McDowell

Shoaling photo

My father, when he tried to quit smoking, used to suck on aquarium stones he sterilized at work. He claimed they worked better than candy or gum, which his doctor recommended. He’d slip a stone under his tongue, massage it hard against his gums as if he could somehow suck smoother the smooth stone.

My father and I talked about little else than fishing—I was thirteen, in love with things muscular and flesh-like—and we wished to become night-hunters, gifted with vision known only to owls and walleyes. Our arms would twist into fins, our jaws would crack and lengthen to gills, and our throats would no longer swell with air. We would not swim so far that bait could not reach us. He would not swim so far that I could not reach him.

Days would pass in conversation and then not, and I’d think him dead, the sound of a stone rolling across his teeth imagined. Neither of us knew why Mother left, only that she did. Only silence makes noise when silence is all there is. Just a whisper, something louder than an inhale. And I’d drag nets to snag him, cast lines and bait hooks, whip my legs into a tail and swim from shore to bay. I’d find my father there, a bluegill in his mouth, his teeth, cracked and marked from the stones, pushed long and deep into the bluegill’s body.

 

image: Valerie Molloy


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