By David O’Boyle (Spring 2021)
The loop around the tidal basin left Emory wanting more. To up his exercise, he pedaled past the Jefferson Memorial and into Potomac Park, the peninsula behind the National Mall. Cherry blossoms in peak bloom greeted him along the way, arching above him on branches and rolling across the pavement ahead of him in colorful miniature tumbleweeds. When a gentle wind stirred and made the pink petals fall, they fell slowly, as if the air was somehow infused with the glycerin that does the same thing to glitter inside a snow globe.
At the tip of the Potomac Park peninsula, a spot known as Hains Point, Emory saw a man lounged in a chaise chair. His outstretched legs pointed East towards Maryland; his head nodded in the other direction, West towards Virginia; the Big Gulp and the bag of Lays potato chips he clutched around his right hand were due south, at river’s edge, right above the confluence of the Potomac and the Anacostia that flowed directly beneath him.
Marvin Gaye’s “What’s going on?” blared from the radio that leaned against the shady cherry blossom above the lounging man. The answer to Marvin’s question seemed clear to its listener: nothing, nothing was going on. And this seemed to be exactly how the lounging man liked it.
Well, with one exception. The lounging man did not like ‘what was going on’ with his fishing. In an apparent attempt to catch dinner while sleeping, the lounging man had secured a row of black and white poles to the dock railing with bungee cords. Each pole darted out to the deep on taut lines, which meant they were rigged with heavy weight to bottom fish. Without floats bobbing above the water, the lines were invisible after they passed beyond the tip top guide of the pole. It took a certain angle of the sun to reflect their whereabouts, just like a spider web.
One of the black poles slammed against the dock railing and bent overboard. The way it fell out of rank with the neighboring white poles made Emory think of playing a sharp key on his piano. The bungee rattled again. Now more than ever it struggled to keep the rod attached to the dock railing, the same way the soundboard underneath the treble bridge and bass strings did back home on the broken baby grand.
“Fish on! Fish on!” Emory said in that excited tone that comes with seeing something big hit the bait hard. He looked over to the lounging man, expecting to see similar exuberance, Reality did not meet his expectation. Despite Emory’s call for assistance, the lounging man remained motionless, unresponsive, still as silence in his chair.
In the wake of this inaction, Emory acted. He rushed to the rod, undid the bungee, and began to reel in the catch. A fisherman himself, Emory knew that unsolicited assistance was proper under the circumstances until the rightful fisherman intervened, at which point there would be an obedient handoff.
No intervention came. The catch came instead. A mighty, flat-headed, long-whiskered catfish, three feet from head to tail flopped onto the dock. Its size and thrashing state attracted the attention of everyone around. Everyone but to whom the fish belonged. Emory looked towards the lounging man again. Still nothing, no movement whatsoever.
“He’s dead!” a little girl shouted as she walked past the lounging man in his chair.
Death by relaxation.
“AUGH AUGH AUGHHHHH!” The lounging man stirred in his chair. Then he reached for the little girl.
Just missed again.
The lounging man got up. The petals clumped in the fold of his belly finally fell to the ground. With both arms outstretched, an unsteady laboring gait, and jointless legs, he came toward the little girl, imitating Frankenstein’s monster.
“AHHHH!” the little girl let out a piercing scream. Hearing her without seeing her would evoke sheer terror. But Emory could see her. Therefore, he could see that a giant smile accompanied her screams, a giant smile that could only be formed by a father playing games with their daughter, in paradise.