A speed-write written in twenty minutes. Nouns generated via this site: [link]
My grandfather used to say give a man a fish, he’s fed for a day and teach a man to fish he’d be fed his whole damn life. Once I asked him if he could build a house out of fish if a storm ever came, and he didn’t speak to me for a day and a night.
There’s no fish anymore, just like there’s no water and no house to protect me from the sun. I’m scuffing my way through the dried up bottom of what might have been a lake but now it’s all just desert. All just dust. Only water in sight is the tricks of the light.
I’m hungry and I’m thirsty and I’m tired.
I want someone to give me something to eat because I’ve never been one for fishing—my hands too weak to hold a pole or reel in a fish more desperate than me to survive.
My grandfather—I remember my grandfather in the rain, the sparse rains that still used to come by and by. Down on his knees without a rain cap on, without a slick rain suit round his shoulders, grubbing in the mud for worms to flick into a pail.
Gotta trick a fish, he’d say. Give ‘em something they think they need. You think they need that worm? They don’t. They just think it’s shiny and pretty when they should just keep on swimming.
He always wanted me to help him. C’mon, he’d say, get on down here. Get your hands dirty.
I hated the way the mud squelched between my fingers. I hated the feel of the wet rain dribble under my shirt.
I cough up lake bottom sand through my throat too dry. I’m going to die of thirst, I think, before I die of hunger.
I’m so hungry I’ve stopped being hungry. I think about the fish and the loaves, a story my grandmother used to tell me over her cards.
A miracle, she said. Five fish and with that he fed five hundred people.
I’d take a miracle. I’m only one person. One fish. And a glass of water. I won’t even ask it to be wine.
Miracle enough for me.
I don’t ask for much. Never have.
Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe that’s why I left home. Maybe that’s why I’m crawling back.
Will I find water if I dig a hole, or would it just be my grave, and would the worms be waiting for me? I’m no witch. I can’t find the water with a stick. I wish I could. I wish I was that kind of person, but I’m not.
I’ve got the song in my head now—the old childhood rhyme. The worms go in, the worms go out. The worms play pinochle on his snout.
Pinochle is a card game my great grandma used to play, by and by. She was never one much for the outdoors. Not one for fishing. They stink, she’d say, they stink!
She didn’t like it when her fish tasted like fish. She’d say, this fish is too fishy.
But what else is a fish supposed to be?
Thinking of her shuffling her cards used to make me cry of grief, but not today. I think I’m too dried up to cry. There’s nothing in me but a yawning hole of thirst, a well gone dry.
I slip on some loose sand and flop to the ground. I can’t get up. I don’t want to get up.
My grandfather would have said I wasn’t trying hard enough. You’re your own worst enemy, he’d say to me, back turned as his line whistled by his ear dropping in the water with a soft plop. If you tried, if you really tried, you’d actually like fishing by and by. Hell, maybe you’d even catch one, feed yourself for a change.
He’d reel a fish in then, and it’d struggle so hard he’d have to brace himself against the earth, the rod bucking in his hand. Fish tried to so hard to escape that hook, make it back in the water. Tried so hard as it fought in his bare hands, fish whaling through the sand as my grandfather raised his butcher knife.
Maybe the fish just wasn’t trying hard enough.
My father, winded, tucked the fish in ice and paper. I stared at the lopped head on the beach with the river rushing on by, shallow yes, but a river still.
There’s another song in my head now. My mother singing it as she went to fetch my grandfather (her father) and me (her daughter) to show us the way back with her songs and her prayers filling our ears and pouring into the mouths of the rivers.
My mother explained it to me, that what gave the rivers voice was our prayers for the running waters bore our words to the ears of god.
But who will hear my voice now, my croaks in the wilderness? Do I first turn to stone to be struck so that water flows from my hardened heart?
Or am I just supposed to try and hope and try again because my faith will make me strong?
(God helps those who help themselves, as my grandfather used to say.)
Am I trying hard enough to get home if I don’t ever reach there?
That’s what my grandfather would say.
I somehow make it back on my feet, head reeling from the sun and from thirst. I think I’m going to die in this desert that once was a lake.
I remember another story that my grandmother told me. How a people wandered in the desert for forty years. How a messiah wandered in the desert for forty days.
Just let me make it home. I don’t need forty years. I don’t need forty days. I need just enough to make it there.
Miracle enough for me.