They say 'write about what you know' and I broke that rule in this story, because I've never been fishing and don't intend to start, but don't carp on about it.
Anyway, to save you the £3.75 that the magazine costs, here's the story, if you'd like to read it. It's more about jealousy, and childhood, and wanting approval, than it is about fishing, to be fair.
He just wouldn't learn, see. I thought he was pretending, at first, to get me riled. But whatever I said (‘try to relax, feel the water holding you up, don’t bend your knees’) he wouldn't learn. He just thrashed about and then grabbed at me, gulping and coughing. I tried to be patient. I wanted to be a good teacher, like Miss Crossley, sticking with him, and if he'd learned it all right, nothing would have happened. That's what I keep telling everybody, all these people who want me to tell them what happened, even recording it. Now, Alan, they say. Let’s just go through it one more time. Why do they need to hear it all again? It's making my head hurt.
Stephen got five quid from his dad for his report, even though he only got Cs and Ds. He didn't get any As, and I got an A for Art and for PE. Mr Reed wanted to put me in to run for the County, but when I told my dad that, while he was looking at my report, he just kept going on about Maths and Biology, as if I hadn't got any As at all. And he never noticed the decorations I did all round his name on the envelope. I stayed after school to finish them and Miss Crossley had to send me out, so she could lock the classroom. Dad just ripped the envelope open with his thumb and pulled out the report. Sometimes he just wants a chance to get at me. Mum never did that. She never called my drawings ‘bits of scribble’, and she'd come and watch me on Sports Day and go swimming with me, things like that.
But Stephen was okay, and he was into fishing, like me, down at the river. Our dads never knew about it. We weren't supposed to be there, but no one came. Stephen's dad had a couple of old fishing rods in the garage and Stephen reckoned he wouldn't ever miss them. My dad had some too, from when he was a kid, but I wouldn't dare take them. Sometimes I said to Dad, ‘Why can’t we go fishing?’ but he'd say where did I think he had the time to do that, now he had to do everything?
Me and Stephen never caught anything, not before that day anyway. We'd heard there were some really big fish in there, but however long we waited they never came. Just tiddlers. I suppose I should have learned patience from fishing, the times we had to wait. But trying to teach Stephen to swim, that was different.
It was my idea. I was busting to think, what could I do that would be a great surprise for Dad? It was no good trying to get good at Maths or Science, because I couldn't. I'd stopped showing him my pictures, or mentioning running, because he just got mad and started saying stuff about 'making something of yourself' and 'making your way in the world'. I asked him once, ‘Is your job at the canning factory making something of yourself, Dad?’ and he slapped me across the head. Mum would have laid into him for that.
So when Stephen said he wished he could swim, I thought, why don't I teach him, take him down the swimming baths and show him? He said he was useless at sports, and he's always tripping over his own legs in Games. But I knew I was a good swimmer. My mum taught me, but Dad's always said he could never get the hang of it. So I got excited. I thought: I could even teach Dad, if it worked out with Stephen. I never told Dad what I was planning, even though a couple of times, when I was asking him for swimming money, I really wanted to. No, I thought. Wait until Stephen’s got the hang of it, and then get Dad to come to the swimming baths with me. I grinned at myself in the hall mirror, thinking about it.
Stephen said he was sure he could never learn, but I told him it was easy when you got used to it. So, during the summer, after school and through the holidays, some days we'd go to the pool, some days down to the river, sometimes both. But he could never get the swimming right and though I tried everything, moving his legs and arms to show him, holding my hand under his back, he couldn't get it. Sometimes I felt like shaking him, I got so mad. I couldn't understand why he wouldn't relax like I told him. Day after day after day, he just wouldn't learn. I knew I was doing the right things, because I remembered how Mum taught me. But he wouldn't do it right.
Then one day last week, we went down to the river. We'd met at the pool because we'd arranged to go swimming first, but then Stephen moaned that he didn’t want to. Couldn't we just go fishing, he said, that day, because he was feeling lucky. He said his dad had given him another fiver for winning some chess prize at school. When he told me that, I felt like there was something ugly taking up my brain. I tried to get rid of the feeling, and we sat there, flipping the lines into the water, batting at the flies buzzing around our heads. It was hot. Stephen said did I want a swig of his lemonade, but I shook my head.
I didn't believe Stephen when he said he had a catch. He kept tugging at the rod, and I thought he was mucking about, so I looked back at my rod and tried to ignore him. His five pound note was sticking out of his pocket and I wished I could tear it up and throw the pieces into the river. I wanted to watch them bob away on the water.
But he did have a catch, and he started yelling at me to come and help him. I stood behind him and yanked at his arm as he pulled the rod, and we could see this blue-green, flashing up and out of the water, the biggest fish I'd ever seen anyway. I don't know what it was, a carp or something, whipping its body backwards and forwards. We hauled it in and it lay on the bank. We both watched it, our eyes wide. Stephen's mouth was hanging open, reminding me of how he wouldn't shut it when I was trying to teach him, so that he’d keep swallowing water. Pathetic, it was. I thought I was going to be sick, looking at him, looking at the fish.
When the fish had stopped moving, Stephen kept going on about how he thought he would tell his dad about the fishing now, and he knew he'd be pleased, even though he shouldn't have been down the river, and they'd have it for tea, with chips. I thought he was talking a load of crap, I said to him. His dad would go ballistic. But he kept saying he'd tell him. Maybe his dad would take him fishing after this, he said, teach him properly. I thought, no one can teach you anything, but I didn't say.
I said to Stephen, just as he was looking for something to wrap up the fish and take it home, why don't we try a swim in the river for a change, now that he was used to the pool? It was such a hot day. He didn't want to. He said he just wanted to go home, and anyway, he was worried about his fish. We can't just leave it here, he said. I said, ‘Nothing’s going to happen to it, and anyway, you said we could have a swim today, remember.’ So, in the end Stephen took off his jeans and T-shirt and we covered up the fish with my T-shirt. Stephen got into the water, gingerly, like he always did at the pool, as if he thought it would hurt him. I pulled him into the middle, which he didn't like, but as I told him, he should have been able to do it by now, if he'd learned properly. He was crying a bit, like a kid, and shouting: 'You mean, if you could teach properly,' and I punched him in the belly before I thought about it. What a baby. I’d shown him what to do, so many times. He just never listened.
I threw out my arms and swam back to the bank just to scare him. I was waiting for him to call out, ask me to help him back, but he didn't, and I didn't look behind me, so I thought he would perhaps try to doggy paddle back. He should have been able to by then, if he'd tried. When I reached the bank, I looked back but I couldn't see him. The water had gone still. I thought maybe he'd made it to the other bank instead, and run off home to complain to his dad about me. I picked up my T-shirt and looked at the fish, then back at the water, then again at the fish. There it was, the massive thing, shining silver and blue from the water, like jewels, and its great eye staring upwards.
I wrapped the fish in the T-shirt and belted back towards home with it, falling over once so that I dropped it and had to brush all the dirt off its scales. ‘Dad! Dad!’ I yelled, as I ran up the front path towards the door, holding the fish tight against me and ringing and ringing the bell. When he came out, shouting 'What's all the bloody noise about?' I shoved the T-shirt with the fish in it into his arms.
‘Look, Dad,’ I said. ‘Look what I got for you’.