by Jake Christie

TIED UP.
a story.

Ben was not happy. Half an hour earlier he'd been playing video games and eating ice cream and it was a different story – the combination did, after all, have a very positive effect on his mood. But now that he was standing ankle deep in a muddy stream, sweating from the heat, watching his father attach a fly to the leader on a fly rod, far from the fading memory of his game and the fading taste of ice cream, he was not happy. He was far from happy, and he put as much energy as possible into his crossed-arm sulk, which he aimed directly at his father.

His father got the fly attached and looked at Ben's fly rod, which sat disassembled in its case on the shore.

“Do you need help?” asked Ben's father.

Ben shook his head. He moved his right wader through the water in a circle. The weeds in the mud offered very little resistance. “I think it's broken,” he said. “We should probably go home.”

Ben's father lifted his own fly rod by the grip. The fly and the rod wiggled. He looked at Ben, then at Ben's case, then back at Ben. “You haven't touched it yet.”

Ben shrugged. He avoided his father's gaze by picking a spot far down the stream and staring at it, hard. The spot was a tree branch, weighed down by leaved and fallen branches, dipped just slightly into the water. He tried to keep some of his sulking directed sideways, back at his father, so the tree didn't unjustly receive the brunt of it.

Off to his side, his father waded through the water and the waves of sulk to the shore, where he set his fly rod gently on the ground. He crouched over Ben's case and took out one piece, then another, and fit them together.

“You know, Ben,” he said, “you and I are a lot alike.”

“Well duh,” said Ben. “We're related.”

Ben's father smiled. “Well duh,” he repeated. “But that's not what I meant. I meant we both don't like change.”

“Okay,” said Ben. The way he saw it his father liked change just fine. He liked to change from his shorts into his jeans and waders and haul the two of them out into the woods on a weekend that was going perfectly fine. He liked to change the channel from cartoons to old guys talking about money or football. Ben liked it when things were simple, when he could sit in front of the TV and play games and not get bitten by bugs. He didn't like change, but his father couldn't get enough of it.

His father fit the rod onto its grip and began to feed the line along it. “I was the same way when I was your age. Don't tell Mom, but I'm the same right now, too.”

“Uh-huh,” said Ben. He watched the tree dip as a bird landed on it somewhere above his spot.

“Someday,” said Ben's father, “you're going to find this relaxing. You're going to want to do this with your own son. Because you'll get tired of doing the same stuff all the time, because it's stuff somebody else wants you to do.”

“Like this?” said Ben.

“Exactly,” said Ben's father. He put the rod down and reached over Ben's shoulders, where Ben could see his hands. He wiggled his fingers nefariously. “Nothing but fly fishing with your father, forty hours a week! The horror! The horror!”

Ben felt himself smirk, even though he tried to keep the corners of his mouth down. His father let his hands fall onto Ben's shoulders.

“There you go,” said his father, “at least try to enjoy yourself. I'm missing the game, so at least one of us should.”

Ben broke his gaze and sulk from the tree and looked at his father. “Why are we here, then?” he asked.

“Mom's idea,” said his father. “But I have to admit, I don't think spending time with you is the worst thing in the world.” He tousled Ben's hair, then went to the case to retrieve a fly. Ben watched him.

“How do you know which one to use?” he asked.

“Years of practice,” said his father. “Whenever I could find the time.”

Ben turned in the mud and took a step towards his father. He leaned in over his father's shoulder and watched him pick a fly.


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