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Fishing With Roger

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by Rebecca Perry

The day’s so hot you could cook a sausage just by leaving it out on the flat top of the letterbox. Only that would be a waste of a good sausage, because our dog Jerry would sniff it out quicker than you can say TAKE ME TO THE POOL, MUM!
Which is exactly what I do say, over and over. But Mum’s busy on her bookkeeping, like always. And it’s the middle of the holidays and we live out on a farm so none of my friends can bike over and there’s nothing, absolutely nothing to do out here.
“Why don’t you go fishing with Grandpa Roger?” Mum says for the hundredth time. “Go down the creek out the back and you can wade in if you get hot.”
I groan again. He’s not my real grandpa, he’s only my mum’s step-dad, and we have to live with him because he’s the only family Mum and me have got now. And he smells. Like green cheese, and books without pictures, and the inside of old cans. I peek out the window across the dusty yard to the rundown shack that’s his bit of the property. I can see him inside, just, because his windows are so dirty. He’s watching the telly. Unfair.
I must have pushed Mum a bit too far by the afternoon and she’s nearly screamed at me to go.
“FINE!” I shout. I let the flyscreen slam. I stomp across the yard. There’s flies circling in the shade of Roger’s verandah. Ants crawl on a plate left by the doorstep. I knock softly, hoping he’s deaf enough not to hear and I can say he was asleep.
But just my luck he shuffles to the door and soon I see his wrinkled prune face behind the flyscreen. “Isaac, my lad. Yer mum said I should take you fishing but I thought you were never comin’”. He wheezes and holds the door open. “Come on, don’t let them flies in.”
I wait inside, in the dim kitchen crammed with dirty dishes. I thought Roger was going to get fishing rods, but all he brings back from the shed is an old yabby net. Great. We’re not even real fishing.
Dad would have taken me real fishing.
And now he gets a chop bone out of the sink, all slimy with grease, and shoves it into his pocket. He pats it meaningfully. “Bait. Hey, you hungry?” I shake my head and grimace.
“That dog of yours coming?” Roger says when we’re back outside. I whistle Jerry over. He’s bounding all over like this is the best fun. Roger pats him and he rolls over to get his tummy scratched.
Dog’s got no loyalty.
“We’re not driving?” I could make my own river out of the sweat pouring off me if we have to walk.
“Walking’s half the fun,” he says, and pulls his battered hat low over his eyes. I groan but since Jerry’s already disappeared down the track, I have to follow.
The creek’s wide and brown where it lazes in the full sun. There’s reeds and muck at the edge, but Roger just slides straight down the slippery mud bank and up to his ankles in the water. “Chuck us the net!”
I do a pretty good throw and it lands with a splash by his feet. Roger gathers it up and tosses it further into the creek.
“Now what?” I say.
“Now we wait for the yabbies.”
“How long?”
He gives me a sidelong look under his hat. “Til they come.”
He seems to know I don’t really want to talk, so we just sit in the shade for a while. A line of ants marches towards the creek and back. A dragonfly swoops in and out of the reeds. Most of the teachers try to get me to talk, to tell them all about Dad leaving and us moving out here and how I feel and would I like to draw a picture about it.
Not-talking is kind of peaceful, with the creek making its splashy sound and the wind making the leaves whoosh, and Jerry panting like a heat machine.
“Dad used to take me fishing,” I say at last.
Roger just scratches his beard.
“We used to catch lots of fish. All the time. Huge ones.” Actually we didn’t, but the best thing about stuff in the past is that you can change it a bit, spruce it up.
Roger smiles under his beard and nods. He probably knows that Dad never took me fishing.
But soon I’m telling him about all the awesome things I used to do with Dad, and our old house, and my old school, and though most of it’s made up its good to tell someone, because the sadness feels less scary.
At the end Roger just says, “Time to check the net.”
We drag it out of the creek together, the slime on the rope rubbing off all over our hands but I don’t care because the net feels heavy. At last we heave it out of the water. Two huge yabbies glare at us in the net.
“Cool!” I say.
“What do you want to do with them?” asks Roger. “I can cook ‘em up for tea if you like. Or we can chuck ‘em back.”
The sun is glistening on their blue-brown backs. The really big one holds up his strong claws in defiance.
I say, “Let’s chuck them back. We can come down and catch them again tomorrow.”
“You’re on,” says Roger, freeing the yabbies with one hand. They leave little bubbles as they escape into the muddy water. We walk home in the afternoon cool, Jerry bounding all the way.

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