by – Eugene Marckx
There is a dock on a lake where a few men gather to fish. Every Saturday they come at sunrise and stay as long as the fish are biting. All the people they have to please and all the things they have to do don’t keep them from this. Whatever the weather, they come to the dock on Saturday at sunrise.
They’ve gotten to know each other well, how they are the same but different. Yet much of this is never spoken, that is, unless some new man comes there to fish. Then he will hear from one, “You really need these worms. I dig them out of the compost in my back yard, and the fish go crazy for them. Here, try a few.” Or from another man, “I grow these crickets in a cage down under my porch. The fish just love them. Want some?” Or from another, “I get these little pink marshmallows from a Korean mini-mart across town. The fish won’t come out till they see these things, and then they go nuts to get caught. Here, put one on your hook.”
The new man tries out the ways of the others and comes up short. Then he starts to find some way of his own to catch the fish.
But what about the fish? Why do they come to the dock Saturday after Saturday? They know every last glop of mud in that lake. It never changes. But around the dock are always some few delicacies they won’t get without playing the game. And not one of them has thought twice on the chance of getting caught. They’re young. They’re going to live forever. Even if some of them do get caught, most of them don’t. They live on to next Saturday’s game.
Both men and fish know the routine so well that they begin to get a sense of something else. It has been happening all along, but as Saturdays come and go the men feel it more and more. They begin to try words for it, or maybe a word. Water, yes. It’s the water on the lake, in all of its moods, winter and summer, that they come for every Saturday. Water.
And the fish, the survivors beneath the dock, are hearing sounds from above. Saturday after Saturday, they can almost feel the hush, as if a secret is being revealed. Without knowing it, one fish begins to make that sound. “Water.” He says it to the others in the dark as they move toward the baited hooks. “Water.” They turn and listen. “Water.” He says it again. “Water.” And all at once he has to know. “Water. What is it? It sounds so good, better than anything dangling here. Where is it? I’ve got to find out. I’m going to find where water is.” And he swims away from the dock, out of the lake, downstream, and is not seen again.
Saturdays pass. Another generation of fish comes to play the game at the dock, and then another generation. Yet a memory is held of one who swam away. After all, these fish are hearing the same secret tones from the men, and they have questions too. Are the only interesting things in life just baited hooks? The memory of that fish grows dim, but it lingers.
Then one Saturday he returns. They see him. He is old and tattered. He steadies himself under the dock, and they gather round.
“Are you the one our grandfathers knew, the one who swam away to find water?”
“We wondered if you got lost and might never come back, but now you’re here.” They crowd in. “Did you ever find it?”
“Oh, yes.” He looks out beyond them.
“So what is it like, this water?”
He looks around at each one of them in turn. “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”