A Roach in Time

It was easily Davey's most precious possession. Given to him by family friends it was the first thing he'd owned that wasn't a hand me down from his elder brother or sister nor was he told to share it with them. It was a little brown fishing rod with wooden butt and a red reel with ivory coloured handles. With it was a plastic box with three floats, some hooks and lead weights and some other fishy bits and bobs. He kept his rod in his room next to his bed and fished with it before he went to sleep and again first thing in the morning before getting ready for school. When the school bus dropped him off outside the house Davey would run up the stairs, get changed into his play clothes and sit cross legged on his bed, casting out over the rug on the wooden floor, enticing the fish that lurked beneath his brother’s bed on the other side of the room. He peered over the top of the rod occasionally, admiring its straightness and examined the red thread bindings that held the eyes in place that guided the line; it was the most beautiful thing he could think of and it was his – yes, easily his most precious possession.

Eventually of course Davey ventured out of his bedroom to fish. In the back yard was a tin bath filled with pond water where they put the snails and the water boatmen and newts that they brought back in jam jars from the pond in the field by the house. Davey fished in the bath, weighting the float with the shot so that it bobbed upright just as his brother had shown him. Visitors encouraged him; first the postman, then Hilda with the eggs from the farm down the road and even Norman the greengrocer with his bulbous nose who called twice a week in his van. They all smiled at Davey and asked if he'd caught anything. "Not yet" Davey would say not taking his eyes off the little float.

It wasn't long of course before Davey had out-fished the tin bath and felt the urge to venture further afield. He announced one day to his mother that he was off fishing; "good luck" she'd laughed from the kitchen window as he strode purposefully down the drive, dragging the heels in his sisters old wellington boots. He set out across the road to the ditch that ran alongside Doleman's farm. He kicked down the long grass sending up a cloud of pollen and scattering some chirping grass hoppers. He gazed in awe at the still black water below imagining such fish lurking beneath; it made his belly churn with excitement. His bait was stale bread that mother gave him and worms that he found under bricks and slabs which he kept in a tobacco tin.

Davey fished in the ditch for many long hours, carefully packing up his kit and coming in for his lunch when mother called. Inside he would sit on the floor with tomato soup or lemon curd sandwiches and wait for the TV to warm up. 'Tales of the River Bank' was his favourite program. "Have you caught anything yet?" Mum would ask, "Not yet" he'd say staring at the screen. Sometimes he would fish in the evening after dinner until the bats came out chasing each other up and down the road making their whispering calls that only children can hear, and which signalled it was time for bed. Every night the dream was the same, a float sometimes red sometimes yellow, bob-bob-bobbing before disappearing beneath the water....

By the time the summer holidays arrived Davey wasn't fishing quite so much. People just laughed at him when he did; his brothers friend had thrown stones into the ditch and called him names and even his sister had joined in. He'd once ventured to the pond in the field to fish but the weed was so thick he couldn't find a gap to get a line in. Even he started to doubt he would ever catch a fish.

Then one day when returning from his Grandparents by the sea they pulled up at a hump backed bridge over a dyke several miles from their house. Normally father drove over it as fast as he dared in their ancient Citroen and their stomachs would leap into their mouths. They would all squeal with fear at the approach then cheer like it was a fairground ride as they went up and over. It was the greatest fun. This time the children scrambled down the grassy bank to look for the troll that their parents had always told them lived under the bridge. The water was clear and to their delight there were small fish that flashed silver as they darted to safety beneath a patch of weed. They were the first fish Davey had seen in the wild and the images kept him awake at night; he would reach down and feel the fishing rod just under his bed then drift into sleep to dream the same dream...

Just a week after seeing the fish under the bridge Davey made a plan. He collected worms from under stones in the farm yard and took a slice of bread from the packet in the bin. He carefully tackled up his rod with the yellow bobble float and pinched on two lead shot, he knew it would be enough to balance the float but tested it in the tin bath just to be sure. Then he selected a new hook and carefully tied it on; three knots plus one extra for good measure and he was ready. He wheeled his bike out of the shed and pressed the tires with both thumbs, a little soft but they would be fine. The little red and white girls’ bike had been his brothers at first and then his sisters and at last it was his. He'd had to tie a piece of foam to the crumbling seat and the front break had ceased to connect with the rim but the back one worked and that was all he needed. He picked up the rod in his left hand and checked he could hold it with the handle bars and still reach the break lever. Then with his carrier bag and a seaside bucket in his right hand he wheeled his bike to the kitchen window and shouted to his mother that he was going fishing. She smiled down at him, "good luck then Davey!”

Davey set off a little unsteadily through the village. The gardener in the big house stopped clipping the hedge and winked with a nod and then Hilda with her basket of eggs waved; "good luck Davey" she called. He passed the little garage at the end of the village where they sold petrol and ice cream and he knew this was further than he'd ever cycled before. He forgot which side of the road he was meant to be on so crossed over from time to time to cover both options in case the police were watching him from the bushes. The bike made a loud knock at each crank of the peddles and he stopped now and then to readjust his grip on the rod and rest his legs. The road was long and straight in places, there were no houses and he felt very small and alone. He considered turning back several times but the image of the fish drove him on.

At last he reached the hump back bridge and pulled onto the grass letting his bike fall to the ground. He carefully stepped between the two strands of barbed wire fence, guiding his rod through and stood looking down at the still brown water in the dyke. Despite the warming rays of the morning sun there were still pearls of dew on the grass. Davey noted the shiny wetness on his wellington boots and so squatted instead of sitting to prepare his bait. He took a small worm from the tobacco tin and with trembling fingers impaled it onto the hook. It burst into life and he struggled to hold it firmly enough to hook it through twice more. Then, letting the line dangle out front he gently edged his way down the bank remembering how the fish had scattered the last time he was there. At the bottom he crouched down low on a patch of damp and stony ground where the water had receded.

He pulled some line out from the reel suddenly remembering he had left the ratchet on, ‘CRAAAK!’ the noise echoed under the arch. With sinking heart he fumbled for the button on the reel feeling sure he must have scared away the fish. Undeterred but a little brazenly now he pulled line out with his left hand and swung the rod out, releasing the line so that the float plopped not quite into the middle of the water. He watched mesmerised as the worm slowly sank into the brown murk. Then a flash of silver! He saw the sinking line beneath the float pull straight and then the float followed its path. It was not so much a controlled strike as a spasm of shock that jerked the rod upwards. Davey felt the juddering tugs of the fish momentarily before it was snatched clean out of the water. But the fish fell back with a splash and a swirl and the line went slack. "Aww NO!" Davey cried in disbelief lowering the rod and staring at the growing patch of light brown mud stirring up from the bottom where his fish had been. He could feel his heart thumping in his chest and hear the blood rushing through his ears. But Wait! Again the line was drawing tight the float darting rapidly away, the fish was still on! In his excitement he forgot to reel in. He raised the rod with an outstretched arm and leaned backwards taking two steps back and falling against the bank. The fish was pulled out of the water bouncing onto the stones where he had stood, he took two steps up the bank and the fish flipped and flopped into the grass, but then with horror he realised it had dropped off the hook and was flipping back down perilously close to the water’s edge. Davey dropped the rod with a yell and dived down, he managed to get two hands on the fish and held on to it for all he was worth, he turned and started to make his way to the top of the bank using his elbows to balance until he reached the bag he'd left at the top. He dropped the fish in the long grass away from the edge and grabbed the seaside bucket. He slid back down the bank oblivious to the wet soaking onto his shorts and quickly filled it up. Grabbing his rod on the way back up he reached the top and only then paused to look at his prize. The fish glistened silver in the sun, about four inches long with brilliant crimson red fins, its mouth and gills worked in unison, gasping at the air. He scooped it carefully up and smelt it before dropping it gently into the bucket noting it was less visible when he viewed from above. With urgency he gathered his things, pausing several times to smell his hands, savouring the essence of his epic victory.

Davey mounted his trusty bike for the long ride home and set off with a wobble down the wrong side of the road. The knock-knocking of his crank got faster and faster as he sped home towards the village. He chatted to his fish from time to time reassuring it, feeling a bond between them, he explained how far it was to go and about the tin bath that would be its new home. When at last he reached the garage that sold petrol and ice cream he stopped.

He rearranged his equipment ensuring the rod was balanced correctly and that he could hold his bag in the same hand and still pull the break leaver. Then he took a deep breath, wound his peddle up to the start position and pushed slowly off. This was his victory parade....

 

Simon Leak

 

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