by John Bennett
He wanted to give the impression that he was a fisherman, faking it was the one true thing he did. It was like playing with fire from a safe distance, poking the hot coals with a long stick and watching the sparks fly.
He wanted to fake being a fly fisherman, but he knew that was pushing it. He settled for hanging around the pier with the old men, even faked that, tinted his hair gray and walked stooped, manufactured wrinkles with a cosmetic kit. He wanted to hold his hands wide to describe the length of his fish, and then whip out the pictures, but using pictures was tricky. He knew how he’d do it though. He’d go down to the fish market and buy a two-foot-long trout before they decapitated it.
“How long?” said the fish monger, arching an eyebrow before moving off to serve someone else.
He waited until the vendor wrapped the customer’s purchase in butcher paper and then approached him again. “Excuse me,” he said, “but I saw an old man land one that big down on the pier today.”
“Listen, buddy,” said the fish monger. “No one caught a two-foot-long trout off the pier today. No one caught any trout off the pier. There are no trout in these waters.”
“Says you,” he said, and rushed from the shop.
He went back to his basement apartment and locked himself in. He drank a glass of warm milk to calm his nerves.
Three days went by before he ventured out again. He went to the library and asked the librarian if she knew of any books that dealt with catching big fish.
“It so happens I do,” said the librarian.
She went marching off to the fiction section, pulled Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea from the shelf, and handed it to him. “This might be just the ticket,” she said.
He went back to his apartment and read it straight through, then sat in the dark for a long time without moving. Then he began to cry softly.
His tears were real.
He wasn’t faking it.