Fish Hook

I only found him because I’d stopped looking. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d have ever talked to a guy like him, or that he would have ever talked to me. A redneck and an aging punk? It’s like something out of a bad joke.

We met at the Cotton Eyed Joe, a country western bar that’s mostly a hangout spot for college kids who aren’t old enough to go to real bars. We’d each been dragged there by friends trying to cheer us up, and then subsequently abandoned by said friends when they’d realized that it was beyond their capabilities to do so.

We made fun of the fresh-faced twentysomethings playing dress-up in their western shirts and bolo ties, and then ditched the Joe for the Waffle House. We learned that neither of us was the person we appeared to be. We talked for hours and then decided that the best way to end the night was to do something reckless and stupid. But all we could come up with was buying some beer and drinking under the bleachers at the high school.

When I say that falling in love with Clyde felt like coming home, I realize how that sounds, especially in light of what I’d just gone through, but what you have to understand is that it wasn’t a return – it was an arrival. Clyde showed me everything I’d failed to see about the place I’d grown up in, and the people who lived there. I saw Knoxville through his eyes, and after that, I never wanted to leave again.


I find Haley sitting against a tree, watching Clyde and Purness cast, reel, repeat. She says nothing as I take a seat beside her, but she scoots over a bit to give me room. We watch the hooks soar through the air, the feathered lures making them look like birds in flight, watch them plummet toward the lake and hit the surface with gentle plops. Purness studies Clyde’s movements before he casts, but he lacks the patience to leave the line alone long enough to catch anything. Clyde, by contrast, casts with careless ease, content to let the line bob without interference. There is a pattern I can’t detect to the way he reels it back in and recasts, but Purness does so randomly, frantically.

Haley sits cross legged with her head resting in her hands, her expression as flat as the surface of the lake. I put my arm around her and she tenses up, but she doesn’t shrug me off like she usually does. I take this as a sign that she’s at least willing to listen, if not talk.

“Look,” I say, not really sure how to start, “I know this is a tough time for you, for all of us. And believe it or not, I understand how you feel. We don’t get to choose who we’re attracted to. But you know that nothing can ever happen between you two, right? He’s your stepbrother now. It just wouldn’t be appropriate.”

She looks up at me. “But what if he wasn’t? What if he wasn’t my stepbrother? Do you think he would like me then?”

“Haley, I….” I should dismiss this question, get us back on the right track, but there’s a desperation in her eyes. This is a question she needs an answer to. “I’m sure if you were three years older … or if he were three years younger … yes, I’m sure he would like you.”

I guess it’s the wrong answer, because her shoulders sag and she turns her gaze back to Clyde and Purness. I run my fingers through her hair. “Haley, maybe instead of just worrying about how you feel, you should think about how Purness feels. He doesn’t have a mom or siblings to rely on. So why don’t we try to be there for him and Clyde, okay?”

She shrugs, and I know that this is as far as I’m going to get with her. I look out at the lake. It really is beautiful, the way the sun’s reflection expands like melted gold across the water’s surface. I painted a picture of this lake for Clyde, and he told me it was the best birthday gift he’d ever gotten. To be honest, I don’t love the outdoors as much as I love that Clyde loves the outdoors.

Purness is getting more agitated, I can tell. He reels the line back in almost as soon as it hits the water. Rock, who lies a short distance away from them, gnawing on his bone, stops chewing and looks up, his eyes fixed on the rod whipping back and forth. He hops up and approaches Purness from behind, tail wagging furiously.

Purness casts, reels, repeats. Casts, reels, repeats. I realize, too late, what is about to happen. My legs are leaden as I climb to my feet. I reach out my hand, call for my dog––

Rock lets out a horrible whelp of pain. Purness jerks his arms forward, attempting to cast, only to be met with unexpected resistance. Rock takes off running, the fishing line trailing from his mouth. Purness is so shocked that he lets go of the rod.

Rock is fast for a nine year old dog. He runs as if something horrible is chasing him, which I suppose, as far as his walnut-sized brain is concerned, there is. Trailing ten feet of line from the hook in his cheek, dragging the rod across the ground, he flees right through another family’s picnic, scattering them and trampling their food. He passes a dozen people as he makes his way toward the road, and not one of them has the presence of mind to grab him or the rod, which skips and bounces like a water skier in the wake of a speedboat.

“Ah, assbiscuit!” Clyde exclaims, and with that the chase is on. Purness, Haley, and I are the only ones really running; Clyde can’t manage more than a brisk shuffle, and Sabrina, who is just wandering back from the beach, trails behind as she captures video on her phone.

A car screeches to a halt as Rock dashes across the road and into the woods on the other side. Purness is close behind. The driver honks and yells something nasty at him as he passes.