Fishing at Tommy's
It was a package deal, almost a special service that could be ordered as an activity at the campgrounds everyone in the area knew as just Tommy's. The old man had waited perhaps the better part of the last twenty years to get away long enough to go fishing, but never had. Now, here was his chance and the experience came wrapped in its own set of attire and lore.
They fished Tommy's pond, stocked with good fish for catching but questionable for eating. The old man was given a low slung chair in which to settle his tired bones and rest his cane. He pulled a little cigar out of his shirt pocket and lit it.
The old man was given a special padded plastic "fishing shirt" to wear over his shirt to keep him warm, as it was still chilly in the spring night air, and a hat to wear over his bald head, to keep it warm. They fished at night when the fish were biting and the brightest objects were the nearby stars. The hat came with a floppy brim that never obscured the old man's view of the sky. He sat trying to make out constellations none of the others even knew or cared about, while the others began their rituals, the baiting of the hooks, the actual casting of the lines and the setting of the poles in their stands beside the chairs. The old man was their guest while they represented the management.
Some talk went around and occasionally the lines were sampled by the service team. Where poles needed re-casting, this was done too. Meanwhile the old man drank his beer and smoked his cigar. Then on one pass, the fishing chief said that the old man probably had a fish on his line and that he should probably reel it in. The old man sprang to the task with childlike glee, only to be admonished not to reel it in too fast. The old man managed to bring in the fish.
Yes, it was a real fish too, occasionally flipping around, trying to get back into its watery home. The fishing chief and his assistant took out a flashlight, a measuring tape, a camera and a little leather bound book in which was recorded all the official catches at Tommy's. The old man seemed bewildered at all the fuss, but was enjoying it immensely. The fish was duly identified as a 14 inch long blue grey bass. They passed the book to the old man and had him initial a certain place in it.It may not have been what he expected, but at long last the old man had gotten his fishing in, and of course he was very happy.
When later as he recounted it to a friend, he would have said the place it happened didn't matter. He was there, waiting for something and then, there in front of him, approaching him, dressed as he was in typical business attire, was that girl from a long time ago. He admitted that he hadn't paid much attention to her at the time. Certainly he regarded her as above average in appearance both then as now. She was tall, angular and blond with a quick and sunny disposition that underneath covered what he suspected were the usual inherited traits of the privileged set. No doubt she spoke French, although he couldn't recall if he'd even bothered to find out.
"So, you're ...," she began in her typical blunt fashion.
"You know my name. I'm Bruce Ginsberg," he said.
"Gail Fogelberg," she said.
"I know," he said.
For maybe a split second he caught her blazing blue eyes set in her peachy countenance and felt that first seizure of sexual thrill rush through him just as she'd provoked him in those days long past.
"It's been," he began.
"It's been 38 years," she said, "and I've always had a few questions that I never got answered." She was going to get right to the point, as he recalled she always did.
"Me too, I guess," he said, preparing himself as best he could for the onslaught.
"Were you really attracted to me back then?" she asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Are you still?" she asked, a little tickle of a laugh in her voice.
"To tell the truth, you still look pretty good," it just came out. They both laughed. She motioned for them to go somewhere they could sit down. He thinks it could have been one of those places one orders expensive coffee, but he isn't just as sure it wasn't a place they serve Nathan's hotdogs. It didn't seem to matter to him. Just the shock of seeing this flashy girl from his past was obscuring his usual shortsighted vision.
"What had it been then?" she demanded. "Why didn't you pick up on my hints to pursue me? I was really beginning to wonder if I was that bad looking."
"Oh no," he said. But the truth was that even now, dressed in a white blouse and pale pink skirt and matching pumps, showing her great legs to best advantage, she seemed so dazzlingly bright that he could barely look at her for too long.
"The truth is," he began earnestly, "that we were both really young and didn't know what we wanted."
"You didn't," she said. "Remember what I told you?"
After all these years, he certainly did remember; she told him he didn't know what he wanted.
"Why couldn't it have been me?" she asked. "Bruce Ginsberg and Gail Fogelberg. It would have been perfect."
"I don't know. I remember I wanted to see the world first," he said.
"So, did you?" she asked crisply.
He had been around the world once anyway, gave her a brief vivid rundown of where he'd been, what he'd seen and who he'd met.
"It sounds just fine," she said after a pause. "But then again, I wonder what it might have been like to have been with you instead of what and who I have been with." She didn't sound sad, but wistful. "One shouldn't have any regrets."
He shook his head in agreement, but then recalled, "I remember that soon afterword you went with that big outspoken kid."
"Yeah, but that didn't last long, then there were a few others, then I met Danny and got married and had his kids and then later he started drinking a lot and began to beat me. Then I had to leave him." She seemed only to quiver a little as she told him this, in a kind of stony monotone voice, as though it didn't matter what she was saying, as if she were recording it for radio broadcast later.
She finally leaned forward and got right into his face, "But you, you silly little bastard, I could have made you deliriously happy and you would never have beaten me."
He leaned back, away from her and said, "We didn't give each other enough time back then, do you remember?"
"There's never enough time," she said. "I just never wanted to be alone."
"What's the big deal with being alone?" he asked spreading his arms wide. "It's the human condition, each one of us is essentially alone."
"I just couldn't deal with it," she said. "I've always had someone to be with me." And unspoken, he understood that she couldn't stand being alone for long. It was an interesting proposition for him, a man who had been alone many times and didn't mind it vs. a woman who couldn't contemplate being alone for long.
"So are you alone?" he asked.
"I'm seeing somebody. A few people."
"But are you alone?" he asked and dared to look right into her bright blue eyes. She looked like a frightened timid little animal in need of motherly attention just then. She looked away from him and down.
"I'm not that interested in any of them," she finally said.He knew he'd reached the point of decision. The truth was he was alone, had pretty much adjusted to it after a brief and tumultuous marriage that thankfully produced no children. What would he decide to do and why?