Short Story

The Pond

by M.J.Harris

The pond was several miles from home. It never had a name. We could never agree upon one. Nothing ever sounded good enough, every name fell short in some way. Come to think of it, I was the only one that ever wanted to bother naming it anyway. I was never satisfied with any of the names suggested. Nobody else seemed to care what it was called. So by default it was called “the pond”.

It took a good part of a summer morning to get to the pond. Each time I made the trek the route became more efficient, the path more worn, the way more traveled. There was a rhythm to the trail and it was as if my feet knew the way. I loved making the journey to the pond. “ This.... is what it was like for Daniel Boone!” I marveled, as I ran the trail. I imagined what it was like to run from Indians or to hunt deer or bear.

The trail winded around and skirted a dirt road that was hidden by a long stretch of woods. It ended up at the pond and on this day when I emerged from the woods there was a kid standing at the dock. The dock was a large concrete slab that led up to the edge of the pond.

I stood motionless for a long moment. The kid hadn’t seen me yet. He was smaller than me. He was trying to reel in, his fishing line. There were tiny flying insects buzzing around his sweaty, shaved head. He was aggravated, helpless and unaware.

There was something right off the bat that I didn’t like about him. He looked like the kind of kid that was spoiled. He looked like a tattletale. He looked like trouble.

“What are you doing!” I challenged him aggressively.

Surprised and jolted he kicked his fishing rod into the water. He ran back and forth on the dock unable to collect himself or decide if he should abandon his rod and reel and run or stay and try to save it.

“Whaaatt!” he screamed dropping to his knees, his fishing rod being more valuable than his safety or understanding of his predicament, he leaned over the dock to rescue his rod and reel. Unable to reach it he jumped back up to his feet and continued his dance. I watched in disbelief as his rod and reel sunk out of sight. He looked over the dock, the rod was gone. He sank to a sitting position and began to cry.

I had never seen anything like this before. “Why did you throw it in the water?” I demanded, by now I was feeling sorry for him.

His face went from white to red, it was muddy from tears and dirt and worm bait. His eyes bulged as if they were weapons and he was about to shoot them out of his head at me. He screamed, “It’s your fault!” “You're paying for it! It was my Grandfather’s fishing rod!” he buried his face in his hands and cried.

“Why don’t you just get it out of the pond” I asked impatiently. I walked over to the edge of the bank picking up a stick to fish it out.

“I’ll get it!” he said, jumping to his feet and grabbing the stick out of my hand.

Without much effort at all he retrieved the rod and reel. It was new. It was expensive, too expensive for a kid to have. “I’ll bet his grandfather doesn’t even know he has it!” I thought, dismissing the notion that I might somehow get in trouble because he dropped the fishing rod into the pond. It all added to the strangeness of the spectacle unfolding.

He reached out his hand and introduced himself. This too was strange because kids our age didn’t shake hands. I dropped my lunch bag down to the dock and walked away. “I’m gettin worms!” I snarled.

“Don’t try and take any of my worms because I only have a couple left,” he warned. He had a carton of “store bought” worms. The carton was white and it looked nice enough to contain potato salad.

“I don’t need your worms!” I shot back in disdain.

There was never any need to bring bait to the pond. The pond was behind a large commercial green house. There were several big compost piles nearby with all the worms you could ever want.

The compost pile was actually more of a refuse dump for things that were discarded by the green house workers. The huge pile was mostly dirt, dead plants dislodged from their pots. The pots were neatly stacked off to the side and saved for re-use.

About twenty feet from the pile, I caught sight of a snake just as it disappeared under a slab of broken concrete. I knew I couldn’t catch it. I had tried before. The slab it slid under was too big to move. I was pretty sure there were no poisonous snakes in Ohio. Either way, now was not the time to overreact to the sighting of a snake. I looked back at the kid. He was drying off his reel with his shirt.

I dropped to my knees on the opposite side of the pile where I had seen the snake and began digging for worms. “I wonder if the snake had slithered to this side of the pile?” I thought as I dug for worms.

Before long my can was filled with big juicy night crawlers. I returned to the concrete slab that bordered the pond and sat down on the edge of the dock. I bounced the heels of my tennis shoes off the wall of the dock. A big four winged dragonfly buzzed by my head, circled back and hovered in front of my face. It lingered for a long moment and I wondered if he recognized me, because I recognized him. Maybe he too wondered about the new kid. Where did he come from and why had I never seen him before?

The dock dropped straight down to the edge of the pond. On some days the pond would recede several feet. When it did, a muddy bank appeared. When it dried it split and cracked but you could walk on it. You could even stand on it and fish down there if it was dry enough. It was like that on this day. It was also the only accessible bank of the pond the rest being overgrown by wild brush and shrub.

There was a dirt road that winded around a house that was adjacent to the pond. The dirt road lead from the farmer’s house to the dock at the edge of the pond. The farmer, who wasn’t actually a farmer but a retired businessman, owned a small manicured lake and the property adjacent to the pond.

We called him the farmer because anybody who owned that much land, in our minds, had to be a farmer. We lived in the city. There were no large tracks of land anywhere except for parks and ball fields. His property was large enough to have a small lake, a road and a natural wild pond. So, we figured he was a farmer.

The green houses were owned by someone else. We didn’t know who. To us, it was some kind of green house business. The concept of buying and selling plants was beyond our reach. We never saw the front business side of it because we weren’t allowed back there in the first place. So we stayed clear of being discovered. But the green house property bordered the farmer's pond. The back of each large track of land touched at the pond. We got there by sneaking through the woods that bordered the farmer's road that led to the pond.

He didn’t want anyone trespassing on his property but he left us alone, as long as we never went near the manicured lake. The lake was surrounded by a lush and deep dark green grassy bank that sloped gently down to the water.

There were old growth Weeping Willow trees at the south edge of the lake. Some of them hung over the bluish, green water. The Willow’s drooping branches created a leafy green canopy. It stretched between the bank and the farthest part of the Willow’s reach. I longed to explore it. I dreamed of having my own canoe, one that I'd fashion from a log. I would hollow it out with fire. It would cut silently through the water like a knife. I would explore the Willowed Cave in my canoe right under the farmer's nose. “He would never see me,” I daydreamed, just like Daniel Boone would sneak into an Indian Camp to rescue somebody.

The farmer’s house and that of his two adult children were at the top of a hill that stretched down to the willows and the bank of the lake. It was the most beautiful part of the lake. The end of the lake that was closest to the pond was narrow, at places very shallow and overgrown with cat tails. It provided perfect cover from the farmer's house. He couldn’t see you fishing unless he walked all the way down to the pond.

He stocked the lake. It was full of bluegill and sunfish.

Sometimes he would drive down to the pond in his old station wagon. He could be seen coming down the dirt road from a mile away. It led from his driveway to the end of the concrete slab where we fished. On the occasions when he did come down to the pond we scampered into the woods following our well-worn trail and hid until he left. He never followed the trail and only on rare occasions would he leave his car.

Once I watched him stand at the slab and look over the pond. He wiped his glasses, he looked tired. He looked troubled and sad. I wondered how this could be. He possessed so much. Is this what made him so mean? Is this why we ran from him? Was his sad, troubled face the price of keeping this beautiful place to himself? Hiding behind the bushes I felt like it was more mine than his. It seemed to me like he was the one that enjoyed it the least and yet he owned it all.

It didn’t take long for the kid to be out of worms. “Can I have one of your worms?” He asked.

I looked at my cup full of juicy worms, all big long night crawlers. I got more than I needed just to show him what a great worm hunter I was. “No!” I said coldly.

“C’mon! He whined. “Look how many you have!”

“No.” I said, matter-of-factly.

“Where did you get em?” he asked.

“Don’t worry about it” I said, reveling in the moment.

“C’mon” he complained.

“Find em yourself!” I said.

“Doesn’t matter, I don’t need worms!” he replied, as if he had some great secret. I baited my hook with more worm than the hook could hold.

I watched as he crawled mysteriously around the bank of the pond. Lifting up old dead sunken leaves, he grabbed a couple of snails. I had seen them before but never thought of them as bait. “Fish won’t eat them!” I said.

“Oh yeah!” he snapped back. “You just watch.”

“They got shells!” “How they gonna eat snails?” I asked sarcastically.

“They’ll eat em!” “People even eat em!” he said confidently.

“People don’t eat em!” “No way!”

He grabbed a big rock and smashed the snail against the concrete dock. He picked away pieces of the broken snail shell. It wiggled. He pushed it through the barbed point of the hook and into his finger. He let out a yelp of pain and flung the hook out and away from his hand. The hook stayed stuck in his finger. I wondered what kind of infection this would cause. The folly never seemed to end with this kid and I couldn’t help but laugh.

He did indeed catch a fish. He threw the line in the water and almost immediately caught one. It was a bluegill or what we would call a pumpkin seed. In a day you could catch 50 or 60 of them. They would bite on anything.

We fished, arguing back and forth who would catch the most fish, me using worms and him snails. It was a dead heat. We each had 18 fish. The day was drawing to an end, the sun was hot and my lunch had long since been eaten. I knew I had to begin the long walk home. I had caught my last fish. It was time to go or there would be trouble when I got home. The thought of him catching more fish than me was unacceptable but the fish had stopped biting and we were tied at eighteen fish each. I needed another plan.

“If people can eat those snails then why don’t you eat one?” I challenged him.

“I’ll eat one!” he said defiantly.

“No you won’t.”

“Yes I will!”

“No you won’t.”

“Will to, I already ate one before”

“No you didn’t”

“Did too, at a restaurant”

“Did not.”

“Did too”

“Then eat it!”

“Okay I will... they’re good!” He grabbed his rock and smashed the snail against the dock. “Ummmm, these are so good!” he exclaimed as he picked away the broken pieces of shell. Without another word he popped the snail into his mouth and started chewing. Chomp, chomp. I could hear the gristle crackle in his mouth as he chewed the half-dead slimy creature. His face contorted into a grimace that resembled the disemboweled snail. Out came the chewed up snail flying across the dock. Spitting and choking with black drool running down his face he jumped to his feet. He stood bent over dry heaving with his hands on his knees. He farted! “I’m going home” he cried, wiping the slimy black drool on his arm. Without another word he picked up his rod and turned to leave.

“Hey...!” I yelled to him, as he hobbled away.

“What!” he said.