Boy with a Fishing Pole
C. J. Spataro
the boy from the dock. Two summers ago
what do you think?" He stepped back from the canvas. Beads of sweat
trickled down between his bare shoulder blades and he wiped his forehead
with the back of his paint stained wrist.
"I think its wonderful," she said, taking in the painting.
The air in the room was hot and thick, heavy with the acrid odor of oil
paint. "He looks kind of like my nephew." She wanted him to
open a window, turn on the fan.
"Your nephew?" He looked at her and frowned. "I should
have known youd say something like that."
She frowned back at him. "I guess its the red hair." She
sat down on the metal folding chair across from the easel and folded her
hands in her lap. "Do you have to keep it so hot in here?" she
"I like it hot. You know that." He moved to the small table
where his palette lay and began to clean one of his brushes.
She stared at the painting, lifted her nightshirt up over thighs and fanned
her legs. It was the contrast between light and dark that struck her most
about the painting. That and the figure of the boy, hunched over his fishing
pole, a solitary figure surrounded by sky and sea.
"Do you like it?" he asked with his back to her.
"I told you I thought it was wonderful," she said. "The
lighthouse on the horizon is a nice touch."
He shook his head. "You just dont get it, do you?"
She looked down at her folded hands. "Get what?"
"The boy, in the painting."
She watched him gently wipe the paint from the brush and set it down on
the table next to the palette. His back and arms were glistening with
sweat, there was a dark, v shaped stain where his shorts met his back.
"Take another look at it," he said, turning around to face her.
She stood, folded her arms under her damp breasts, her nightshirt clung
to her underarms.
"I really think its one of your best, Paul." She reached
over and patted his arm. "And Im not just saying that because
my brain is melting."
He smiled at her, moved across the room and switched on the fan.
"Do you recognize the scene, Shelly?"
She shook her head.
"No?" He seemed disappointed. "Remember Lake Superior?
The day we went out on the fishing boat?"
She stared at the painting. The boy was bent over his fishing pole. It
reminded her of an old man with a cane.
"The boy on the dock?" he said putting his hands on his hips.
"You were the one who said I should take his picture."
She shrugged. He stood next to her, both of them taking in the wet canvas.
"I cant believe your memory is that bad," he said. "Well,
anyway, its the boy from the dock. Two summers ago, on Lake Superior."
She remembered. She knew what the painting was from the moment she stepped
into the room. Her memory wasnt bad, she just wanted to keep some
things for herself, to play with him a little. Shed been fascinated
with that boy on the dock that day and now she could see that Paul had
"We had fun fishing," she said, pushing back her damp bangs.
"You must have caught six trout that day."
He smiled. "Thats right, thats right. And we grilled
them back at the lodge and ate them out on the deck with drawn butter
and asparagus and
"Blueberry pie," she said.
"See, you do remember."
She smiled at him.
"I caught six trout," he said, sitting down in the chair. "That
boy must have caught twenty, just standing at the end of the pier. Ive
never seen anything like it."
"He was pretty amazing," she said. "Every time he cast
his line he pulled out a fish."
"Like he was a character in a fairy tale," he said.
"Yes, just like a fairy tale."
She positioned herself in front of the fan, letting the moist air circle
around her and remembered the boy the way he had been that day, not with
red hair, but with dark brown hair and eyes. He was much older than he
was in the painting, probably twelve or thirteen not eight or nine. Hed
told them how his father had been a fisherman and that he had died. About
how they said it was no good to eat too many fish out of the Great Lakes
because of the mercury. The boy had seemed to her as if hed had
an old mans soul trapped inside him. It had been a clear, sunny
day, but not terribly warm. She remembered how the light reflected off
the white caps as the waves hit the stony beach. Shed had her sweatshirt
tied around her waist.
"How are you catching all those fish?" Paul had asked him.
"Its the chum," the boy answered proudly. "Youre
not supposed to do it, but if you dump enough fish guts over the side,
theyll just keep coming." He pointed to a wriggling plastic
bag lying behind him on the pier. "Im not supposed to catch
more than a dozen, but I dont care, Ill just take them over
to my brothers house. Well gutem and put them in the
freezer, eat them all winter."
The boy had asked Paul if he would take his picture, not Shelly, although
she had encouraged him to go ahead. Paul snapped the boy holding up a
particularly large steelhead, still twisting on the end of the fishing
line, then hed flexed his muscle like a strong man in a circus.
Paul had continued to snap pictures after the boy had returned to his
fishing. Shed stood there, the entire time, observing their interaction,
wanting to say some something, but feeling as if she would have been intruding.
"Do you suppose they got tired of eating all that fish?" she
"What?" Paul said.
"Do you suppose they got tired of eating all that fish?" She
lifted her hair off the back of her neck.
"All that fish the boy caught?"
He shook his head. "Maybe. They must have been so poor," Paul
said. "You remember that town, tar paper shacks and mobile homes."
"He could have just been telling us a story. Trying to elicit sympathy
from the tourists." She stepped away from the fan. "His father
could have been the captain of our fishing boat or the owner of the lodge
for all we know."
"I dont think so." Paul stood and started to put away
the unopened tubes of paint and newly cleaned brushes. He turned and looked
at her. "Sometimes you are so cynical."
"Am I?" She looked at the painting again, at the boy, the gentle
curve of his back, the arc of the fishing pole. "I dont feel
cynical," she said softly.
"Well, you are." He turned away from her. "You dont
know what its like to be poor."
"Youre right, I dont." She stepped back in front
of the fan, looked down at the slippers on her feet. "What do you
think is worse," she said, "being poor in the city or out in
"See, thats what I mean." He clicked a brush against the
side of a glass jar, flecks of color splashed against the glass. "Thats
a cynical statement."
"I guess it is." She watched the muscles beneath the skin of
his shoulders move back and forth as he cleaned the brush. "So indulge
your cynical spouse and answer the question, whats worse?"
He didnt look at her. "I think that being poor is no good for
any kid, whether they live in the city or the country. I should know."
"I guess you would." She stepped up behind him, wrapped her
arms around his waist, laid her head on his back. He patted her folded
hands on his chest, then gently pushed her away.
"Your hair was reddish when you were a boy, wasnt it?"
she said, stepping back.
"I guess. I dont have many photographs from my childhood. No
parents, no pictures."
It always surprised her when he spoke that way. "Ive never
thought about it like that before. Im sorry."
"But you do remember what color your hair was when you were a child."
"Yes, I guess it was sort of reddish," he said turning to her.
"I wonder. Do you think that if wed decided to have that child,
its hair would have been red?"
He frowned. "I suppose its possible but I dont know why,
after all this time, you still say things like that."
"I dont know," she said. "I know it was the right
thing, but I guess I wonder sometimes."
He put his arm around her waist. "You know how I feel."
"I do. Most days I feel the same."
He turned back to the painting, his hands in his pockets. She reached
out, stroked his cheek. His eyes were dark and tired. "Ive
changed my mind," she said. "I dont think the painting
looks like my nephew after all."
"You dont?" he said.
"No, I dont." She smiled, took him by the hand. "Its
just a beautiful painting of a little boy."
© C. J. Spataro October 2002
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