by SD Williams
The boy found a place near the center. Those already scattered on the floor complained about latecomers, who complained in return, and eventually accommodations were made. It was evening and summer. The sun had gone but the warmth would last through the night. The boy’s grandmother sat in the deep chair, surrounded. She told the story of the family dog she and her brother had buried long ago, only to disinter it a day later when they thought it deserved a better funeral. It had been in Paignton, a sea town, before the war. The boy heard the shovels cut the earth, felt the weight of the dog leave her hands, and smelled the dirt as they covered it. He saw her dimly as she lay awake later wondering if they’d done right by it, and felt the thrill when she and her brother snuck away before dawn to perform the rites anew. Suddenly she raised her arms and shouted her own mother’s astonished words, “What in God’s name have you two done?” And the children on the floor laughed like a single creature.
In autumn the boy and his friend followed the railway tracks to Small Pond. The fish didn’t bite, so the boys left their rods near the spillway and followed the stream into the forest. The stream broke into channels in the low ground, and something strange had happened. Every channel bulged with shad, the fish crowded side by side, rubbing each other, their bellies flashing when they startled, and so stacked on each other that dorsal fins cut the surface. The shad were running from the big downstream pond, whose spillway emptied into the salt marsh. They ran so thick the boys caught them with their hands. The two of them plowed through the water like giants, herding the fish to each other, dizzy with abundance.
The next day they returned with Lady, the boy’s dog. They brought nets as well as poles, imagining a catch of thousands. They entered the maze of streams, but the fish had gone. They’d spawned and fled to the saltwater in a day.
The boys emerged from the trees and channels downstream on the banks of the large pond and decided to fish from the railway embankment. They rarely fished here. The water was shallow and the fish scarce, but here is where they’d arrived, so here is where they’d fish. They baited their hooks and flung their lines into the empty water. They grew bored. The boy’s friend wandered along the bank and threw handfuls of stones into the pond, explaining it would attract fish, although it seemed unlikely. It didn’t matter. There were no fish. They skipped rocks. They explored the embankment, but they found only stones, dry weeds, and dust. They climbed the embankment and crossed over the rails. A maze of grass tufts and stagnant shallows spread before them. The boy’s friend leapt to a tuft, lost balance, fell, and gave a sneaker to the mud. He searched up to the elbow of his left arm until he found it, crying out, “It’s got me.”
Lady stood on the tracks above. When the boy climbed and reached the rails again, he saw a train in the distance. It was just a shimmer with a headlight. The tracks ran a long way in either direction. The two of them watched together for a while. Then the boy stepped down to the pond. He reeled in his empty line. The bait hadn’t been touched. The sun was going down. He reeled in his friend’s line and carried both rods and the two nets up the hill. Then the train rushed close. Lady stood between the rails and stared as it came.
They carried her home in a jacket they slung between them. For days he was no good. He lay in the grass and listened to planes cross the sky. He watched leaves fall from trees. He didn’t want to eat. Something was wrong with him. He wondered what his grandmother had felt when she looked into her dog’s dim eye, what kind of dog it had been, what its name was. She laughed when she told the story. She never talked about the war.
About SD Williams
SD Williams has worked mostly in nonfiction. He is lucky enough to have held the archetypal position of editor-in-chief of a small newspaper in North Carolina. He has published numerous articles in national magazines and journals and toiled as an editor and writer for such clients as the World Bank and Mediterranean Affairs. In fiction he mines the mythopoeic space between things, fully aware that such a clause sounds like a bit much. More: https://sdwilliamswrites.com.