Uncle Ralph backed the boat from the dock and into the channel. At the end of a row of docks, a channel led to the open water of Lake Erie. Uncle Ralph opened the motor as soon as they cleared the no wake zone and soon the shore was nothing more than a sliver above the horizon.
Uncle Ralph cut the motor and Rich tossed the anchor. The boat bobbed gently. It was easy weather. In the far western sky, the sun touched the calm waters of the lake and sent a fiery pathway right to them.
They cast their lines and in short time began snagging fish. Uncle Ralph got excited every time he saw the rod quiver and bend from a nibbling fish and he moved with quickness and agility across the rolling deck to secure the pole. If Rich wasn’t vigilant, he’d take his poles too. He loved to reel them in. His eyes lit as he drew the fish up close to examine it. He smiled as he examined each catch and his head bobbed – looking through his glasses and over the rims. He loved to fish and he loved to watch others fish who loved to fish.
By 10:00, it was dark. A low yellow glow of a kerosene lantern hooked to the cabin ceiling was the only light. Distant dots of light lined the shore.
Nothing had nibbled their lines for a while.
“Looks like they stopped biting,” Rich said.
Uncle Ralph said nothing.
Rich waited a minute or so. “Do you think we should change bait?”
Again, he said nothing. He gazed into the night. It was something that Rich’s dad did also. Rich sometimes wondered what he was thinking at those times. He wondered if Uncle Ralph and his dad were thinking the same things or seeing the same visions. Was it a way to erase the mind and cleanse the soul, taught to them by their father?
“I want to die fishing,” Uncle Ralph said breaking the silence.
The mere mention of death was frightening to Rich, especially looking out into the utter blackness of night, imagining he was staring into a coffin lid.
“You don’t hear of fish or for that fact animals die of old age,” Uncle Ralph said, “although I’m sure it happens.”
Rich wasn’t sure this was meant to be a dialog, so he said nothing.
“If they’re kept as pets they die of old age,” Uncle Ralph continued. “I’m not certain they should be kept as pets. It seems sort of unnatural. Your Uncle John and Aunt Non nearly grieved themselves to death over a dead parakeet. That bird should have died in the jungle someplace, food for some other animal. There’s enough grief with people dying without compounding it with animals.”
Now, Rich was silent.
“Let’s turn in, Rich,” Uncle Ralph said. “I’m getting tired.”
He lifted the lines and poles from the water and sat them along the side the deck’s walls.
“You can fish as long as you like. Just don’t fall in,” Uncle Ralph said.
He went into the cabin, turned the flame in the lantern lower, removed his clothes, and slid into the bunk.
A few minutes later the end of Rich’s pole bobbed. He let it bend and yanked a fighting perch from the water. He quickly cleaned it to what light remained from the cabin and laid it in the cooler.
“If Uncle Ralph knew there was one more fish to be caught he’d never gone to bed,” Rich thought.
He caught a couple more before calling it quits.
Rich retrieved a blanket from the cabin and shut the door to the cabin. He wrapped himself in the blanket, sat on the deck, and spent some time erasing the mind and cleansing the soul.
He heard from a distance two other fishermen talking. The light from their lantern was faint and disappeared from time to time. Rich surmised they were bobbing below the waves.
Out there in the darkness was a secret world – a world of the night and of lonely people with lonely disquieting thoughts, all of them staring into the darkness awaiting the cleansing. Rich sat in a cozy world, adrift as if in space, far from the frights and complexities of the chaotic world; lonely in warm solitude. There is something about being on the water or near the water at night. It seems as though you are on the earth’s edge, that nothing exists beyond the darkness and if you do catch a glimpse of life, it is only those seeking out their treasured loneliness.