Persistence was wearing us down. “Hey, guys, let me come fishing with you, I promise I won’t muck about again.” Jeff must have said that twenty times. Martin and I exchanged glances. Jeff had come on an early morning trip to Hertford canal with us once. We’d cycled along empty lanes, the sun sparkling in the green canopy overhanging the road, past the infamous Clibbon’s post, marking a highwayman’s grave, and down to the deserted canal, where mist rose, steaming and ethereal. After an hour of catching nothing more substantial than minnows Jeff had spent his time throwing stones at ducks and carving his name into a memorial bench. Never again! we’d agreed.
Now Martin and I had special permission from Mr. Smith, a local farmer somehow known to my mother, to fish in a small pond in one of his fields and we’d been reluctant to let anyone else in on our ‘secret.’
That weekend all three of us were dropped off at the farm. There was a small stile into a field and we were relieved that the usual herd of Jersey cattle was absent. The huge brown beasts would gather round us, swollen udders swinging, their enormous black eyes curious, and their wet noses brushing against our arms as we passed through the field. Then one or two would stamp the ground with their hooves. That’s when we’d start to feel nervous. Stay calm, cows don’t attack people!
Today we were spared that ordeal and walked through the empty field and into a small wood, on the other side of which lay the pond, circular and open, with some tall trees standing at one end. The water reflected fluffy white clouds, laughing in the cerulean sky. We stationed ourselves under the trees, setting up our rods and fitting squirming maggots onto hooks, then cast our floats. We stood in the peaceful, warm pond-air, watching them bob gently in the dappled water. A water strider alighted by my float, resting on the mirrored surface. Was it observing me and wondering?
After perhaps twenty minutes my float trembled. My heart beat faster. More trembling. Come on, bite! Suddenly the float bobbed right under and I whipped the rod back, feeling resistance and the vibrating pull of a fish, transmitted by the thin nylon monofilament line. Excited, I could see flashing gold beneath the surface. The fish pulled some line from my reel but it didn’t get far away, and I reeled it in – a small crucian carp.
“Hey, well done!” Jeff slipped a landing net under the fish and lifted it out of the water to a cheer. I weighed it, 14 ounces, nearly a pound, golden with reddish fins, almost disc shaped, slightly bigger than my hand. It gasped and a black eye regarded me with an alien intelligence.
“Don’t worry!” I said to the fish, popping it into a keep net, and wiping its slime onto my jeans.
The morning passed pleasantly, we all caught two or three fish, all crucian carp. Were there any other fish in there? We never found out. Then we sat on folding fishing stools and took out our sandwiches.
“Hey, let’s light a fire.” said Jeff. “We can have toasted sandwiches!”
Martin and I exchanged glances. “Don’t be stupid!”
Jeff didn’t say anything, instead throwing bits of his sandwich at a solitary duck.
The following weekend was warm and sunny and the little pond beckoned, peaceful and idyllic. Martin and I decided to go alone. This time though, the cattle were in the field and we steeled ourselves to walk through them. “They’re harmless, just inquisitive,” laughed Martin.
“I just wish they weren’t so big!” I replied.
“Oi!” a shout came and we saw a man walking towards us. The cattle ignored him so we surmised he was a farmer. “Where d’you think you’re going?”
“Down to the pond. We’re allowed.”
“Sorry, lads, not any more you ain’t. Mr. Smith’s not letting anyone fish there no more.”
“What! Why not?”
“Some lads went down there in the week and started a fire. It’s marked the ground bad, and they left their rubbish behind.”
We trudged home, feeling despondent and betrayed.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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