Swedish version


Two Fly-Fishing Women

by Randy Kadish


  How would I describe myself? I would say as a wife and a mother who loves her family, as an attorney who admires the law, and as a fly fisher who proudly says she learned from the greatest fly fisher she ever knew: her grandmother.

And whether by accident or not, my grandmother taught me something even more important than fishing, something I still cherish even after this long, long parade of days.

The lesson happened near the middle of trout season, on the first day of summer, June 21st. I was fourteen years old. I was very, very hurt and angry. Here's why.


  A year had passed since my grandfather died of a heart attack while fishing a nameless, but very beautiful, pool on the Junction River. My grandmother and father came to believe if someone had been with him he might have lived.

But in spite of their belief, my grandmother often told me, "Amanda, be thankful he at least died doing what he loved."

I tried to see it my grandmother's way, but couldn't. Deep down inside the truth was I desperately wanted him back so he could hug me and tell me fishing stories I knew weren't all true. Besides, since he lived close by, he was the one I sometimes ran to when the fighting between my mother and father got real bad.

Whom did I blame for the fighting? I guess both, even though I knew my father was only trying to stop my mother from getting high. And I wanted her to stop. I hated the smell of marijuana. The smell meant my mother watched television with a stupid grin on her face, a grin saying silently, but loudly: don't even try to get me to help you with your homework.

To make things worse, I couldn't look forward to my father coming home, because his coming home usually lead to another fight, and to me running to my room, slamming the door and putting a pillow over my head. The pillow filtered out most of the words, but the anger always found a way through, and made me pray for my mother to stop getting high.

She didn't.

So every day when I walked home from school and passed our town's beautiful, old white church, I wondered if there really was a god.

On one of those days the sky was so clear and the sun so bright that winter felt like spring. Suddenly I forgot about all the bad things in my life, and dreamed of fly-fishing and catching a big trout.

I walked up the wooden steps to my house, and into the dim kitchen. My father sat at the table, staring out the window as if he was lost in space.

"Dad, why are your home so early?

He looked up at me. His eyes were red, as if he had just cried. "Your mother ran off with, with another man."

Surprisingly, I didn't feel much of anything, maybe because I felt both good and bad at the same time: good the fighting was over, bad my mother wasn't going to change into the loving mother I wanted her to be.

During the next few months my feelings stayed still.

As for my father's - well he tried hard to hide his, but he didn't do a very good job. Hour after hour he sat in the kitchen all by himself; so even though he threw out all my mother's pictures and never mentioned her name, I knew, for whatever reason, he still loved her, and he couldn't kill his pain.

So he began working real long hours in his tire store, which meant I began coming home to an empty house, putting on the TV and eating dinner by myself.

Maybe that's why my pain and anger slowly swelled, surfaced and soon drowned out the TV. Night after night, I put down my knife and fork and cried. Is it any wonder, therefore, I was thankful when my grandmother moved in with us and tried to take my mother's place?

And oh how she tried, always cooking and helping me with my homework, but never erasing my deepening shame, a shame I tried to hide by telling my teacher and classmates, "My mother is in New York taking care of her sick aunt."

But in a small, close-knit town, I soon learned, some things, like the moon and the stars, are impossible to hide.

My classmates made fun of me behind my back, then to my face.

What did I do?

I turned away, and fished more and more.

You see, being in one of nature's poems, a beautiful river, eased my pain; and I guess made me feel I was a part of the good side of the world. Sometimes I even came close to believing there was a God.

Whether or not there was, my grandmother and father became scared of my being alone on a river; so one day when I was at school, they went to the pound, adopted a German Shepherd and put her in my room. When I came home I heard her bark. I ran to my room. The dog looked up at me. Her expression seemed to ask, "Who are you?" Her face was almost all gold, her body almost all black. She struck me as being funny looking.

I got down on my knees and said, "Hello."

She slowly walked over to me. I petted her, then all of a sudden she jumped up, licked my face and seemed beautiful. I hugged her. Right then and there I named her Shana. And from that day on she looked at me with so much love in her eyes, I wondered if she was really a person in a dog's body. Often I asked, "Shana, do you miss whoever raised you? Well, I promise to love you so much that pretty soon you'll forget all about them."

She replied by licking my face; and I wished I could forget as easily as a dog

My mother never visited or called.

Day after day I still cried, but never in front of my father, even though my grandmother told me crying was all right. Then one day she said, "Amanda, I'm sure that your mother still loves you."

"If she did she wouldn't have left."

"She's probably just confused. That happens to grownups sometimes. She'll again be a mother to you, probably real soon. You'll see."

"I won't, because I'll never even talk to her again. I hate her!"

"You mustn't hate, Amanda."

"Says who? People hate all the time."

"That doesn't make it right."

A month or so later another really bad thing happened: my grandmother got sick and underwent all sorts of medical tests. We anxiously waited for the results. Finally, as my father and I stood in the long, narrow hospital hallway, the doctor walked up to us. His eyes spoke of sadness. I took my father's hand. The doctor told us my grandmother had cancer. Immediately, I ran into my grandmother's room. She smiled. I took her hand her told her how scared I was of losing her and of not having any mother.

She kissed my forehead. "Amanda, I'm not ready to die. I'm going to beat this cancer, you'll see. I guess worse than losing my hair is, for the first time since I met your grandfather, missing the opening of trout season."

"I'm going to miss it too, because I don't care anymore about fishing. I want to stay with you."

Opening day and the cold, piercing winds of April came and went. Finally, my grandmother left the hospital, but three times a week she went back for chemotherapy. I always visited her, even though I soon hated seeing so many old and sick people. I even swore to grandmother that when I got older I would never get sick and go to a hospital.

She laughed. "Amanda, here's what I want you to do for me right now. Go home, take my Heddon Rod and catch some trout for the both of us."

"I'm not going to leave you."

"Your father will be here soon. Please listen to me."

"All right," I muttered.

I trudged home and put on my waders and boots. I went into my grandmother's room. In the corner stood her bamboo rod. Its glossy finish shined like gold, a gold I felt I shouldn't touch. Finally, I walked across the room, took the rod and said, "Let's go Shana."

I fished School House Pool on the Junction River. At first I didn't feel right being there, knowing my grandmother was probably throwing up from chemotherapy, but soon the tall trees lining the bank like a fortress wall seemed to protect me in some way. After I made a few casts and retrieves, the gentleness of the flowing, shimmering water, and the sweetness of unseen, singing birds, washed out all the angry thoughts in my mind, and swept me into the moments of seeing and hearing only the Junction River, of deciding what fly to use and where I should cast it so that it fooled and caught a fish.

Though it didn't, I left the river knowing I'd be back the next day.

And when I was I fished the nameless, banana-shaped pool. In middle of the pool, the sun engraved a long, thin triangle. For the first hour or so I had no luck; then I made what I thought was a bad cast. I pulled my Blue-Winged Olive free. It landed near the bank, behind a big boulder. A trout jumped up and snatched it. Something I can't describe rushed through me like electricity. Without thinking, I cranked the handle of my reel as fast as I could and took the slack out of my line. I lowered my rod and let the big trout run. My reel seemed to shriek as the trout pulled my green line down river. My rod throbbed as if it was alive. With both hands I squeezed it as tightly as I could. The throbbing weakened into a pulse. The trout was slowing, resting. I raised my rod and slowly dragged the fish out of the fast water, the way my grandmother had taught me. I reeled up more line. Is he finished? I wondered. Bam! He nearly jerked my rod out of my hand. He jumped out of the water and shook his head. He dived. My line went dead. I lost him, I thought. Damn! He bolted again and pulled me even deeper into the excitement, the obsession, the killer instinct that gushed through me. Again I squeezed my rod. Then somehow I heard myself breathing real hard, then my grandmother telling me, as if she was there, "Stay calm."

Deeply I breathed. Suddenly my arms felt heavy. The trout seemed to weigh a ton. I pulled my elbows close to my body, and thought, he might win, but then my reel's shriek slowed into a hum. The big trout was tiring. Is he going to give up? I wondered. I pulled him away from the bank, into the slower moving water. I reeled more line in, expecting him to make another run.

He didn't. I easily landed him. I won! In my mind he was about four pounds. Proud, I took the fly out of his mouth. He looked up at me. The fear in his eyes told me he, as I, wanted to live. But since I was alone, if I didn't take him no one, except my grandmother, would believe I caught such a big fish.

"Mr. Trout," I said. "I gonna let you go."

An hour later, wearing my waders and fishing vest, carrying my rod, I walked to the hospital and told my grandmother about my victory, then asked, "Should I have taken him grandma, to show people?"

"You know. That's all that should matter."

I fished the next day, and the next, and the next. And each evening, after the sun slid behind the tall trees, I left the river and told my grandmother how I did, and what flies and tactics I used. She usually made a few suggestions. Each one I tried, and as the season went on, I caught more and more fish; so many in fact that pretty soon desperate men anglers ate their pride and asked me for advice. Though I didn't have to, something told me to share most of my grandmother's advice.

Unexpectedly, I was rewarded. Soon I felt real special, even though I no longer had friends. And feeling special, I quickly learned, was far more important than all the free flies the men gave me.

So that's where I was, emotionally I mean, on the morning of June 21st when I cooked my family's breakfast. My father left for work. My grandmother went to her room to rest, or so I thought, because after I washed all the dishes and cleaned up, I went upstairs to get my books. The door to my grandmother's room was half-open. She was putting on her hip boots. I pushed the door open. She wore her fly fishing vest and hat, but not her gray wig. Her Heddon rod and my grandfather's antique fly box were on the bed.

"Grandma, what are you doing?"

"I'm not going to miss the whole trout season. I want at least one day on the river."

"But you're sick."

"These doctors don't know everything. I think fishing will do more for me than chemo. Now you go to school and don't worry about me."

"Take Shana with you."

She smiled. "I'll be all right."

"If you don't promise to take her, I'll call my father and tell him what you're doing."

"I promise," she said sincerely. I hugged her. I felt something hard against my chest. I let go of her and saw my grandfather's silver revolver under her vest.

She said, "A woman needs to protect herself."

"From what?"


"No one has seen bears around here for years."

"Amanda, you never know, and I can't walk as fast as I used to."

I left for school; but as I sat in that small, dingy classroom, all I thought about was how my grandmother probably wasn't strong enough to fish, and about how my grandfather died fishing all by himself. Suddenly terrified, I wanted to be with my grandmother more than I wanted anything.

"Amanda!" The teacher had called my name. I came out of my haze and I looked up at her. She folded her arms and stared at me.

"Amanda, didn't you hear my question?"

I shook my head no.

Everyone laughed. I wanted to crawl under my desk.

"You're a fish brain!" yelled Mark Klinger.

I jumped up, clenched my fist, and ran up to him. I froze for a moment. I opened my hand and slapped him on the back of his head.

"Amanda!" my teacher yelled.

I looked at her. "I'm not a fish brain!" I insisted. I ran out of the school.

And I kept on running. I reached home and opened the door. Shana jumped all over me.

Grandma lied! I thought. Why?

I looked into Shana's eyes. "We're going fishing."

She licked my face and followed me to my room.

As quickly as I could, I put on my waders, my vest and my hat. I turned to get my rod. My grandmother's rod was in its place. On the floor was my grandfather's antique fly box

Maybe she doesn't want to come! I thought. The cancer is really why she took her gun. But I'm not going to let her leave me.

I stuffed the fly box into my vest pocket, ran downstairs and filled my canteen with water.

"Let's run Shana."

I could barely breath when I reached one of my grandmother's favorite spots on the Junction River, the wide, slow-moving bend just south of Bennett's farm.

My grand mother wasn't there..

Vernon was. He sat on his wooden milk box. He was a very big black man, older than my father. He worked, I knew, as a night watchman in a glass factory. Since he always fished worms on an old spinning rod, I didn't think of him as much of a fisherman. But I didn't hold it against him. He fished for food instead of for sport. His big straw hat had a hole in the brim.

A bottle of Jack Daniel's was at his feet.

I asked if he had seen my grandmother.

"No," he answered without looking at me.

I walked towards him.

"I told you I ain't seen her!" he yelled. His tone told me not to come any closer.

So I did. On the other side of his milk box was a creel with the small trout my grandfather had painted. It was my grandmother's creel.

"Did you try just behind the fallen tree?" I asked, pointing down river. He turned. I snatched his bottle of whiskey and ran. When I felt far enough away, I stopped and faced him.

"What you take that for?" he shouted.

"Because you lied to me, and if you come after me I'll put Shana on you. How come you have my grandmother's creel? Did you steal it from her?"

"Looky here, I never stole anything, since I was a kid, I mean."

"Then how come you have it!"

He didn't answer.

I pulled off the top of the whiskey bottle. "You'd better tell me the truth or I'm gonna start pouring this on the ground."

"It ain't yours to pour."

"That creel isn't yours either. Tell me the truth."

"Your grandmother made me promise not to."

"She's very sick with cancer. She shouldn't be fishing by herself. Remember what happened to my grandfather?"

"She gave me the creel as a present."

"Why would she do that?"

"Because she often gave me things, like flies."

"You don't even know how to fish with flies."

"I still like looking at them."

"Just tell me which way she went, upstream or down?"

"I promised her."

I poured out a little of his whiskey then, trying to look real mean, I stared real hard into his eyes.

"She went down river."

I pushed the cap back on his bottle.

"Let's go Shana." I put the bottle down.

"Wait!" Vernon yelled out. "You ain't goin' by yourself."

"Why not?"

"Because, because, you're a girl and you shouldn't be alone."

"I'm alone all the time. Shana will protect me."

"I'm goin' with you."

"You're not!"

"I am too." He got up and reeled in his line.

I knew I couldn't stop him. Besides, I quickly realized him going with me wasn't such a bad idea, especially since I had always liked him.

He put his whiskey into my grandmother's creel.

"Why don't we hide your box?" I suggested.

"When we come back it will still be there. You'll see."

With the bright, hot sun shinning on our backs, we headed down river, using the narrow path that ran along most of the river bank.

At first Vernon and I didn't say anything. We reached Heartbreak Run. The run was long and narrow, and strewn with boulders that reminded me of tombstones. The run got its name because it had very little slack water, and trout therefore could easily refill their gills with oxygen-rich water and mount a long and often victorious fight.

Someone fished the back of the run.

It was Joe Lovett, an angler I never liked him because he always told stories about the size and number of fish he supposedly caught.

He looked at me and waved. "Caught two big ones!"

"I hate it when he lies," I whispered.

"He just does that because deep down he don't feel good about himself."

"I'll never lie like that, especially if I have as many expensive fly rods as he does."

"Save some for us!" Vernon yelled.

We left the run and came to Paradise Lost, a long, narrow pool. The sunlight filtered through the dense, overhanging branches in a crisscrossing pattern, but didn't reach the water that was so calm and flat it seemed like a huge, upside down photograph of the trees lining its bank.

"Looky how beautiful God's work can be," Vernon said.

"Tomorrow I'm gonna come down here to fish."

"You'll be wasting your time," I told him. "The bottom here is all sand. It has no rocks or plants. The pool is trout-starved."

"Sometimes I guess even God wants to be left alone."

Is he really just stupid? I wondered. "Vernon, your shoes are getting all wet and muddy."

"Don't you worry about my shoes."

"All right, I won't. They're your shoes to ruin."

"They are. You did a bad thing back there, pouring my whiskey."

"I had to know the truth."

"It still wasn't your whiskey."

"You shouldn't be drinking so much whiskey."

"Says who?"

"People, I guess."

"People who don't know how it hurts when God takes your son."

"I never knew you lost your son."

"That was before my wife and I moved to this town." I waited for him to tell me how his son died.

He didn't. I had the sense not to ask, but not to know what to say to comfort him; so instead I said to myself that taking his whiskey and pouring some of it on the ground was wrong.

Without talking, we hiked down the soggy bank, then around the wide, trout-filled Restoration Bend. The silence between me and Vernon felt sort of heavy. Still, I didn't know what to say.

The river ran straight again.

Finally, I broke the silence. "Vernon, why would my grandmother leave her favorite rod in my room and give you her cherished creel?"

"She must've had a reason."


"Well, maybe the cancer is, is just makin' her think real hard 'bout things; and since she was always a generous woman, givin'away things she loves makes her feel better than any medicine can. Yeah, that must be it, because it's gonna be God's job to take me from my grandchildren. And I know your grandmother feels the same way."


"She, she told me so a couple of weeks ago."

He's lying, I told myself. But more than anything in the world I wanted to believe him, so I did. I looked at his cheap spinning rod and wished I had a good one to give. "Vernon, when I get old enough I'll buy you more whiskey."

He smiled. "And I'll be happy to take it."

We came to the big, slow-moving, McCarthy's Pool. It was named after Michael McCarthy. Luckily, he had survived the killing fields of World War One and came home. But one night he got drunk and fished the pool. The next morning two anglers found his body floating face-down; so even though the wide mouth of the pool had some underwater boulders and held a lot of big trout, I always passed the pool by. In my mind it was haunted. I didn't want any part of it, the way I knew I didn't want any part of drinking liquor, even though I knew liquor and war weren't the only things that led to McCarthy's death. The water in the pool was so clear it acted like an invisible lens and disguised many of the drop-offs and holes, and therefore caused many sobers anglers to get drenched.

We left the pool and walked alongside a long stretch of shallow, gurgling riffles. I asked Vernon if he wanted to rest.

He said he felt okay. I offered him some of my water.

He looked at me. His eyes seemed to turn warm. He took my canteen.

We came to the banana-shaped pool. Towards the tail of the pool two beautiful swans rested next to a clump of tall reeds. The long triangle of sunlight reflecting off the middle of the pool was suddenly turned off by a passing cloud. I got into a crouch and walked close to where I had caught Mr. Trout.

"Vernon, Mr. Trout is here!"

"Amanda, we got no time to look for fish."

"I caught him once. Wouldn't it be nice if he recognized me?"

I moved closer. My shadow scared him. He darted away so fast he seemed to have disappeared. I found myself looking at my reflection. I pulled down the front brim of my, and wished I could live and stay pretty forever.

Shana barked, jumped in the river and began swimming after the swans.

"Shana come back!" I yelled.

She swam towards the swans, and soon got caught in a seam of fast and slow moving water. There must've been a strong current under the surface, because Shana barked frantically and paddled real hard. But the current was stronger than Shana. She was swept down river, into the fast tail.

"Shana!" I again yelled out.

"I take my eyes off you for a second and look what you do. Please, don't drown!"

"Dogs are born to swim," Vernon assured me. "Looky here, when she gets to the next pool she'll just swim to the bank."

"Which one though?"

"I'll go down this bank. You cross the river at the riffles down there and we'll meet at the stone bridge."

"Vernon, the bottom is rocky. I forgot to bring my wading stick."

He smiled in a funny way. I'm not a coward, I wanted to say.

"Okay," he said. "We'll find something in the woods."

We quickly found a big stick.. I ran back to the river. Slowly, making sure I had good footing and balance, I waded to the east bank. I looked at Vernon. He gave me a thumbs up. We marched down river at the same pace. The river soon widened and snaked to the left. I almost crashed into the tall barrier of thorny bushes. Damn, I thought. How did I forgot about these bushes?

"Vernon," I yelled out. "I got to follow the path into the woods and go around. I'll catch up to you farther down."

This time, I told myself, I'm not going to be scared. I stepped into the woods. The shade made everything seem dark and eerie. I wanted to turn back. Damn you Shana, I thought. Why did you have to jump into the river? But shouldn't I be hoping that you and grandmother are okay? At least I have this big stick. I walked deeper into the woods, then hiked up a long, low hill.

He stood on the other side as if he had been waiting for me. His arms were folded. He wore an old, green jacket. Something inside me seemed to snap. I froze. I thought of yelling out to Vernon, but quickly realized that the man might do something bad before Vernon could save me. The man was about thirty, and I must admit, good looking in a sort of rugged way. He was unshaven, and wore torn, dirty jeans. His blue eyes studied my grandmother's rod. He smiled. He was missing a front tooth.

"That's real fine-looking rod. May I see it?" he asked, softly, politely.

"No," I backed away, pointing my wading stick at him.

He laughed loudly and looked up. I must've looked up to, because before I knew it, he grabbed my stick and threw it behind him.

"I just want to see your fishing rod," he said.

Though he looked like a vagabond, he spoke more like a politician. I said, "You don't want to see my rod. You want to take it."

"What makes you think I don't have a real fine rod of my own?"

"Because if you did, you'd be carrying it."

"I too was a real smart, freckled-face kid."

"Who are you?"

"Someone who fished this river a lot until my mother had to move."

I wondered if I could end up going wrong as he did. "Look, if you're hungry and don't mind going into the river and getting wet I'll show you one of my secret spots. I'll let you use the rod to catch a fish, but you have to promise me that then you'll leave me alone."

"I promise," he answered as if he meant it.

"We'll go down river a hundred yards or so, to the stone bridge."

"Let's go, little girl."

"I'm not little."

"That's right, you really aren't." He grinned, and suddenly I thought that maybe he wanted more than just my rod.

Still numb, I wished I could momentarily turn into a big man and punch him..

But I couldn't. Quickly, I decided I didn't want him seeing Vernon and Shana on the other bank because then he might grab my grandmother's fly rod and run.

So I led him through the woods, parallel to the river.

Finally, when I knew we were even with the bridge, I turned towards the river, praying that Vernon and Shana waited there for me.

They didn't.

Stay calm, I told myself. Pretend you're trying to land a fish. Stall for time. I said, "Let me tie a fly on." I had made a mistake. Now he would see my grandfather's fly box. Reluctantly, I took it out, and picked out an Adams. I pretended I couldn't get the line through the eye.

"Let me do that," he demanded.

I got the line through the eye, and tied the fly on. Shana barked. I looked up. She streaked across the bridge.

"Get him Shana!" I yelled out. "Get him!"

"Damn you little bitch!" He lunged for the rod. I was ready. I jumped back. He fell, then got up and ran back into the woods.

Shana jumped on me, almost knocking me down. She was all wet. I kissed her and said.

"Good girl, Shana. Good girl. You saved me."

Vernon crossed the bridge.

"What took you so long!" I yelled.

He was out of breath. "Shana wouldn't come with me at first."

"That man tried to steal my grandmother's rod."

My heart began to beat fast and hard, as it never had before, but then for some reason I laughed.

"I tricked him," I said. "Did you see the way he ran. What a coward."

Vernon took off his belt. "We'll use this for a leash."

We continued down river. The tall trees protected us from the hot, sinking sun. My heart stopped beating so hard. I turned to Vernon and said, "The funny thing is, I wasn't so scared while it was happening."

"God hides fear from us when he needs to."

"Vernon, "I'm sorry for yelling at you. That was stupid of me."

"I would have yelled too."

"Vernon, I bet you my grandmother is fishing the pool where my grandfather died."

"It might be her way of feelin' real close to him."

"Vernon, maybe my grandmother took a gun because she doesn't want to come back."

"Look at what just happened. A woman out here by herself is smart for takin'a gun."

"Then why did she never take one before?"

"Maybe God told her there was a bad man out here."

"How? God doesn't talk to people."

"In his way he does. We'll find your grandmother real soon. You'll see."

For some reason, maybe because I wanted to, I believed him.

We walked faster, and soon reached the treeless meadow. The sun felt real hot again. I asked, "Vernon, did you ever think of leaving your family for another woman?"

"Once. But being scared of God is a good thing."

I didn't want to hear any more talk of God, but I also didn't want to argue, so I knew I had no choice but to let him have his say. "My mother was never scared of God."

"Then I feel sorry for her, and for the man who tried to rob your rod."

"Do you think they're evil?"

"The Lord put evil in everybody. That's why we need the Lord."

"That doesn't make sense. If there's evil in them, then they're evil."

"Don't ask me to explain it, cause I can't, but it will make sense to you one day."

"No, it won't."

"How do you know?"

Could he be right? I wondered. It didn't seem so. I asked, "Do you want to rest Vernon?"

"I'm fine."

"Thanks for coming Vernon." He smiled. "You're welcome."

We left the meadow and reached Hourglass Run. The shade from the trees felt good again. Vernon and I drank some water, then I poured some into my hand and Shana licked it all up. A pod of trout saw us and broke for the far bank. For a second that fishing instinct came over me, and I thought of casting my Adams to the trout, but then I remembered I didn't have time to fish.

I heard the splashing of Ester Falls, a waterfall a landowner built and named after the woman he loved.

"Vernon, we don't have far to go."

Waterfall Pool was and deep and wide. Joe McGlinn fished its mouth. Joe seemed more like a neurotic scientist than a happy angler. He was obsessed with using the right fly, and therefore spent more time changing flies and leaders than he spent fishing. But he must've known what he was doing because he wrote a weekly fly-fishing column for a local newspaper. And some of his stories appeared in fishing magazines. Even I could see they were beautifully written. But in person Joe was so shy he never said more than a few words at a time and rarely looked you in the eye. Since he was a lonely bachelor, I felt sorry for him, and that's the real reason I sometimes fished with him, not because he always gave me one of his secret flies on my promise that I wouldn't show it to anyone, except my grandmother.

"Where are you heading?" he yelled out.

"Vernon's house, " I answered. "I'm going to set up his new fly rod."

Vernon stared at me.

"It's about time he became a real fisherman."

"He already is!" I looked up at Vernon, and whispered, "I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes I think he'll rub off on me, and I'll grow up and be as lonely as him."

Vernon laughed, but didn't say anything. I felt stupid. We reached the waterfall, then baby-stepped down a short, steep hill. Above the waterfall was a gap in the overhanging branches. The sun poured through the gap, making the tumbling and splashing water shine like a diamond. As always, I was mesmerized by the beautiful sight.

"Amanda, I told you we got no time to stop and look at things."

"I'm sorry. You're right."

From the falls the water flowed into the long, narrow run known as Devil's Valley. The run was called that, I was told, because most of it was so deep and fast only a few courageous humans risked fishing it. Besides, towards the tail of the pool, the banks climbed almost straight up and were impossible to hike. The run, therefore, was almost always deserted and left, supposedly, to the devil.

We headed into the woods. I was very grateful I wasn't alone.

We hiked straight east following the bottom of the hill. Shana saw a squirrel, bolted, and almost pulled Vernon's belt out of my hand. I pulled her back, wrapped the belt around my palm and clenched my fist. We circled north.

"Vernon, how old do you think the junction River is?"

"I guess about as old as the earth itself."

I knew he was wrong, but I didn't want to tell him so.

"Vernon, I still don't understand how rivers are born."

"Neither do I?"

"And we call ourselves anglers I don't even know where the word 'angler' came from."

Again I heard the river flow.

"Vernon, how did God take your son?"

"By giving him a bad heart when he was born."

"Why would he do that to you?"

"I still wonder." "Do you think there's evil in him the way there is in all of us?"

"I would really call it evil."

"What would you call it?"

"Don't know."

"Do you ever have times when believe in him less?"

"Yeah, but then I always come out of it."

The man in the army jacket stood like a statue. His arms were at his side. He held a gun, pointing it at the ground. The gun's handle was broken and wrapped with black tape. Shana barked.

"You'd better close that two-tone creature's mouth or I'll close it for you."

"At least she has all her teeth."

He thought a moment, then laughed. "That was pretty good, blondie."

I took his remark as sort of an apology and a sign that, bad as he was, he wouldn't shoot anyone. I held Shana's mouth shut. She tried to knock my hand away with her paw, but I wouldn't let her.

The bad man said, "You think you made a fool of me, so I'm going to teach you a lesson and take that real fine rod and fly box of your's."

"What would make you steal a rod from a girl?" I asked.

"You don't know the things I come from."

"And I don't want to."

"You got that right," he insisted.

I moved toward the bank, pulling Shana with me.

"Where, my new fishing friends, are you going?" he asked.

"Looky here, I was once like you," Vernon said. "You still have time to square yourself with the Lord."

"I don't believe there's such an easy way out."

Me too, I thought.

"Then you don't have to worry," Vernon answered. "The Lord doesn't always mark his way."

"Be quiet, black man. If it wasn't for that stupid painting of a trout I take that creel of your's."

"That's my grandfather's painting."

"I didn't say it wasn't good, just that's it's stupid, to me anyway."

I glanced down river. The river curved sharply, so I couldn't see most of the pool my grandfather had died in. Grandma, please be there, I prayed.

"Now blondie give me that rod."

I looked into his blue eyes, then again glanced down river. A green fly line flew out from behind the bend. The line's tight loop unrolled. The fly turned over perfectly and landed gently on the water. Few people, I knew, could make a cast like that. My grandmother was there! Maybe there really is a God, I told myself.

"Look at that gun," I said. "I bet you it doesn't even work."

"You want to find out?" "Be quiet Amanda," Vernon pleaded.

"Even if it does work, I don't think he's brave enough to shoot out here where someone might hear it. You want this rod? Show me your piece of junk gun works."

He looked behind him. Stone-faced, he pointed the gun at the sky. I was sure he didn't have the guts to fire it. He grinned. The explosion echoed in the sky. It was so loud I must've jumped. Shana jerked her head free and barked. I grabbed her mouth again and squeezed it. Shana cried, but I didn't let go.

I backed up closer to the river. "Okay mister. You win." I put the rod down, then stepped into the river. Shana followed me in. I reached into my fly-fishing vest and pulled out my grandfather's fly box. I made believe it slipped out of my hand. It floated down river.

"I'll get it!" the bad man yelled.

He picked up the rod. "Now get out of here."

Shana and I stepped out of the river. With Vernon, we headed up river. I looked back. The bad man walked along the bank, following my fly box.

"I'm not going to let him hurt my grandmother," I told Vernon.

He grabbed my arm, but I pulled it free.

"Take Shana.," I said. "Hold her mouth shut." I got into a crouch, and picked up a big rock. and slowly followed the bad man.

I looked towards the bend. My grandmother didn't make another cast. The shot must've alerted her. The fly box floated around the bend, then disappeared. I stood up, walked faster and closed in on the bad man. Suddenly, I saw my grandmother. She walked towards me. Her hand was under her vest, on the gun, I knew. She stared at the man, then saw her rod in his hand.

Now! I thought. I stood up and threw the stone with all my might. It hit him in the back. I ran behind a tree.

"I'm gonna get you blondie!"

I closed my eyes, and heard a gun hammer being pulled back.

"Hold it right there mister," my grandmother said calmly.

"Don't turn around."

"Grandma, he's got a gun!"

"Stay behind the tree, Amanda. Mister, take that gun out real slow and drop it on the ground. I'll kill you in a minute if I have to."

I peeked around the tree. The man drop the gun.

"Now put down that rod," my grandmother demanded. "Get out of here and don't ever come back."

The man dashed into the woods like a frightened deer. I ran to my grandmother. I hugged her real hard.

"Grandma I was so scared."

"It's all over now."

"I was scared that, that maybe you weren't coming back. That maybe you didn't want to suffer anymore, and instead wanted to die where grandpa did. Tell me you're not going to die. Tell me!"

"Amanda, why would I want to die when I still have you. Besides, I think it's time I taught you how to tie flies."

That night we went into her room, and sat at her desk. I tied my first Adams, then my second; and all during the summer she taught me how to tie Cahills, March Browns, Hendricksons, Blue-Winged Olives and all the other patterns that took trout on the Junction River.

Before long I learned to tie them almost as fast as she could. Then I began selling them on the river; and soon I no longer needed an allowance from my father.

But all was not perfect that summer. Grandmother refused to take more chemo, in spite of my father's pleadings .

"I can't stand the nausea anymore," she said. "Besides, I want to enjoy whatever time I have left."

Strange as it was, she soon had more energy. Her hair began to grow back; but usually she still wore wig.

Right before Labor Day she promised that we would take a trip upstate and fish the legendary Ausable River, but about a week before we were to leave, she took a turn for the worse and went back into the hospital. She fought with the doctors, and still insisted on not taking any more chemo. So the doctors gave her some more pain killers and sent her home.

Again she rallied, and her energy grew stronger. She often went with me to Vernon's spot on the river and taught me how to make curve and wing casts. One day we even got Vernon to try fly casting, but he quickly got discouraged and picked up his old spinning rod.

"Vernon, you shouldn't give up so easily," I said. "If a girl can do it so can you. Watch." I made a long, beautiful cast.

"That's enough for today," my grandmother said.

"Are you tired, Grandma?"

"There's nothing more I can teach you about casting. Besides, it's getting close to dinner time, and tonight I want to cook."

She cooked one of our favorites: chicken in a mushroom sauce.

After dinner we went into the living room, turned on the TV and watched Jeopardy. Using spoons for buzzers, we played along. My father was in first place when the first round ended. After some commercials, the second round started, but my grandmother didn't answer any of the questions. I turned to her. She seemed to have fallen asleep. A very peaceful expression was on her face. My father and I didn't want to wake her, so we stopped playing. When the game ended I again looked at Grandma. She hadn't moved. A chill shot through me. She was dead, I knew.

It took about a week for me to feel strong enough to go into her room and sit down at her desk. I decided to tie the first fly she had ever taught me, an Adams. I opened her top drawer and saw a note in her handwriting It read:

June 21st,

To my son and granddaughter:

Some things in life we can choose, others we can't.
God has chosen me to die soon. I'm not going to try understand why. Instead, I'm only going to thank him for all the blessings and trout he gave me in life.
But there is one thing I still want: to die, unlike my father, without suffering, and where I want. That's why I went to the river, to fish one more day, and then to take my life and pass into eternity right where my beloved husband did.
I pray that this is the right time, and that now you'll both be able to put your hurt behind you and enjoy the flowing, up and down, river of life.
That's the ultimate choice we're all left with.

Your loving mother, your loving, loving grandmother.

Crying, I read the note over and over again, then showed it to my father. He read it, then looked at me, but didn't say anything. I said, "Maybe it doesn't really matter if mom ever comes home." My father hugged me. We cried together for the first and last time.

The next day after school I went to the hardware store and bought a small piece of wood, a narrow brush, a can of green paint and a can of varnish. As soon as I got home I painted, as neatly as I could, my family's last name, followed by an apostrophe and the word Pool. When the paint dried I varnished the wood. It took the varnish about a week to fully dry. Then my father got his step ladder and hammer and went with me to the pool my grandfather had died in. I held the ladder as he nailed my sign high up on the trunk of a tree.

My father climbed down the ladder.

I said, "I bet you this pool was always waiting for a name."

"Yeah, it probably was." He kissed the top of my head.

That night, after I finished my homework, I went to my grandmother's room and tied about twenty flies. I took them down to the local fly shop and sold them; and all through high school, college and law school, I made pretty good money selling flies and teaching fly casting. Since my father had to struggle to pay my tuition, my small business helped him as much as me.

Did I ever see my mother again?

About six months after grandmother died I came back from school and saw her sitting on the porch.

I didn't know whether to run to her, so I didn't. I climbed up the steps, not feeling much of anything. My mother wore a beautiful tweed coat, the kind women in New York City wore. Her fingernails were well manicured with red polish. I wondered if her boyfriend had a lot of money.

She said, "Let me hug you."

"No. Look here, if you came back to live with us I'm going to tell my father we can get by fine without you."

"I didn't come back for that."

"Then why did you?"

"You're my daughter." She closed her eyes, then covered her face with her hands. She was crying. Suddenly, I cried too and, out of nowhere, admitted to myself that a part of me loved her and, for better or worse, always would. I fought back my flow of tears, but couldn't. Without moving, I watched her for what seemed like forever. Finally, she wiped away some of her tears on her coat sleeve. "Amanda, I'm so sorry. There are things -"

"Yes there are," I interrupted. For some reason I thought about Vernon, the bad man in the woods, my grandmother's note and the events of June 21st. Suddenly it seemed as if that strange day had happened for a reason. I thought for a few moments.

I decided I wanted to be more like Vernon and my Grandmother than like the bad man.

I walked over to my mother. I put my hand on her shoulder, and said, "Okay. Let's go inside and I'll introduce you to my, to my girl, Shana."

She took my hand. "Thank you, Amanda. Thank you."


By Randy Kadish, USA 2003 ©

Randy’s historical novel, The Fly Caster Who Tried To Make Peace With The World, is available on Amazon.




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