art by Seth Alan Bareiss
Vincent's First Bass
by Eric M. Witchey
"Go ahead," his father said. "Stand up."
Vince was a Vanderpender ninth-grader, and he'd seen flat-bottomed punts in his art history courses. Not that he liked art history. He was a math boy, but he'd seen pictures of men fishing from boats like his dad's.
They'd started rowing before sunrise. Now, they floated on glassy water in a back bay of Oleanta Lake in the rolling hill country near the Ohio river. Wisps of steam rose off the water, and a bird somewhere made a really spooky cry. At least his father told him it was a bird. A loon, he'd said. Vince wasn't sure if the name was a joke or not. The cry sounded crazy, and he supposed someone might have named a bird that made that sound the loon.
"It's safe," his father said.
He nodded. The boat moved if Vince moved. He could feel it. It was action-reaction--simple Newtonian physics. He should be able to compensate. The variables were known: his weight, height, angle of lean, center of mass, the friction coefficient of the surface area of the bottom of the boat against the lake water.
"Fish are waiting," his father said. "Daylight's-a-wastin', and they won't wait forever for us to pluck 'em out'a the lake."
His father? Vince barely remembered the man. He was weather-tanned and tall, broad like a weight-lifter but dressed in his olive green game warden's uniform. He was a myth, a wild country legend that Vince's mother despised.
Feet braced wide for a better center of gravity, Vince slipped his blue-jeanned butt forward off the front bench of the punt. Knees bent to create springs to absorb movement, he managed to stand.
"Good." His father sat, hands on oars, making casual, micro-movements to steady the boat. "It's really just physics," he said. "I hear from the school you're really good at that stuff." His father handed him a fishing rod.
Vince managed to nod without falling out of the boat.
"The reel goes on the bottom," his father said. "Open faced-reels hang down below the rod for balance."
Vince let the reel drop low. The stem that held the reel to the rod slipped in between his fingers.
"Don't worry, son," his father said. He let go of an oar and adjusted his cap. "I'll teach you what you need to know."
Vince was sure he looked like a rank beginner. He hated looking like a beginner in front of this man, which was pretty silly since they'd only just met. But his father was a Fish and Wildlife warden, and for the first time he could remember, he was spending time with his father like other kids. Of course, he'd seen the look in his father's eyes in the eyes of kids at school and in the eyes of other kids' fathers. The look said it all. Vince was a geek.
"The rod is a spring," his father said.
"Cool." Vince heard the shake in his voice. A spring, he thought. Knowable variables. Algebra. Hooke's Law. Calculus. No worries. He measured the length and taper with his mind's eye. He bounced the tip to test material tensioning against the weight of the bulbous gold and fluorescent orange lure at the rod tip.
"Let a little line out," his father said.
He bounced the tip again. The bright lure bounced. The silver, oval plate spinning on its side tinkled and flashed in the morning sun. No line came out. He tried to pull the line out.
"No," his father said. "Throw the bale, Son."
"The wire around the edge of the spool."
Vince nodded. "Oh." There was a rigid chrome wire around the edge of the reel. The line left the spool and slipped under a little guide on that wire. "Do I throw the whole rod?"
His father laughed at him.
Not good. Hot embarrassment burned his face. He should have said no when the lawyer came to Vanderpender for him. It was a moment of decision. He had created the wrong universe with his decision. He should have picked the universe in which he went to the chess tournament in New Mexico, but some other Vince was in that universe now.