Dislodging the Hook
– Nonfiction by Ery Caswell –
Third Place Winner of the 2021 Dreamers Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest.
My uncle once brought me fishing at his gun club, another family conspiracy to masculinize me. We were deep in what some locals call Swamp Yankee territory: the rural places in New England where you’re most likely to see a confederate flag. He’d brought me to a pond on the property of the gun club that was man made and not terribly large–maybe fifty feet across. I suppose the gun club owners must have put the fish into the pond for aficionados of the hunt, like Uncle Les, to catch. Otherwise they would not have been there at all.
Like most of my family’s attempts to masculinize me, this one didn’t take. Nonetheless, Les made a noble attempt. He showed me how to saddle the bait onto the hook and cast the line out into the deepest part of the shallow pond. We stood at the edge of the water next to a sign post, which named the artificial body of water: Gagnon’s Pond. The gun club owners named it after my uncle, Les Gagnon. Even as a child, this struck me as odd. What had Les done to have a pond named after him?
The pole twitched, and my uncle gestured to it, adjusting his baseball cap. “Alright kid,” he waved me toward him, away from the wildflowers I was picking. “Let’s see ya reel one in.”
At first I was excited. As I reeled the crank, tightening the line and dragging the fish through the shallow waters, I would glance over at my uncle. Normally gruff and straight-lipped, I noticed he was smiling. “There you go, little man. Just keep bringin her in.” Clearly, I was doing something right.
But that’s when I noticed. The closer the fish struggled to shore, hopping up in strained splashes, another color swirled in the murk of the water. A gentle streak of crimson trailed behind the fish, something like a comet’s tail. I gasped and the line went slack.
“Oh, don’t pay that no mind,” Les said, reaching for the fishing pole. He hoisted it, pulling the wriggling trout out from his pond. “It happens. See?” He held the dripping fish up over the water, pointing to its gills with his free hand. “Damn thing just swallowed the hook.”
Held up sideways, the fish’s one beady eye glistened over and stared. Les was right. The hook was lodged, one sharp tooth of it jutting out of the fish’s throat. I looked from the hook, the red raw gash it left, back to the fish’s eye. The way it looked at me made me feel like a criminal. Why? Why did you do this to me? I had no good answer.
Les reached down to rip out the hook. I turned to look back at the gun club behind us, refusing to watch. He laughed, rolled his eyes a little. “It ain’t every time, kid. You’ll get used to it.” He wrenched the hook out of the fish’s throat, tossing it back into the pond. And that was that. Les tried to wrangle me into reeling in another, but I’d had enough. My refusal made the rest of our fishing trip short lived.
On the drive home, neither of us said much. Les turned up the classic rock station on his radio, and I looked out the passenger’s side window of his pickup truck. The cooler full of bait sat wedged between us, a barrier of sorts. I thought of the trout, its eye slick and glistening with what I swore was betrayal. This guilt I swallowed, along with another kind.
A part of me knew this trip was another test I’d somehow failed.
About the Author – Ery Caswell
Ery Caswell (they/them) is a queer, non-binary emerging writer and full-time librarian living in Connecticut. They have organized community writing groups for five years, one of which has self published anthologies titled “Journey” and “Homeland”. Their writing focuses on childhood experiences, the uncomfortable distance between queer existence and normative social conditioning, and the yearning to be free within one’s gendered body. Writing as a path toward healing is at the center of all their professional work. They earned their MLIS from the University of Rhode Island in 2020 and their BA in both Writing and Politics from Ithaca College in 2016. As an emerging writer, Ery looks forward to connecting with readers, especially young queer readers looking for the radiant light of their own authentic expression and home in community.
*This story by Ery Caswell has won Third Place in the Dreamers 2021 Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest. See the full results!
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