Charlie Davis ran a bandana over the balding spot on the top of his head and returned his sweat-stained cap to its perch. He liked to consider it his “lucky fishing hat” and last time he figured it, he’d had it most of the last 30 years of his life. Today the luck hadn’t shown up, though; not yet anyway. He squinted with one eye up at the sun. This day was going to be a hot one. The morning air was dead still and the mosquitoes were making the most of it. He slapped one on his arm and flicked it into the water. The pond was as flat and as perfect as a mirror. Charlie didn’t mind any of this, though. There was just something about fishing that made not catching anything perfectly okay with him. Communing with the sun and the bugs and the water fed his soul in ways other things just didn’t. He arranged himself more comfortably in his lawn chair with a creak and watched his companion dangle her feet over of the edge of the dock and swing them just above the water’s surface.
“How come they’re not biting, Mr. Charlie?” Andrea Sanders asked with a flip of her red 8-year-old pigtails.
“Just call me Charlie, Andie. That’d be just fine. Don’t you be worrying about them fish. They’ll bite when it’s the right time. Just you wait and see. Just gotta be patient a little bit is all.”
Andie wrinkled her nose at him but smiled. He adored the child and didn’t mind bringing her along with him. It seemed to him her momma didn’t mind either, not that she paid much attention to the girl unless she was yelling at her. That woman seemed to yell about a lot of things but Charlie didn’t have much to do with her. He didn’t mind it; except when it came to Andrea. At least out here she was getting some peace.
He was amazed such a beautiful child came from such a woman as that. It made him wonder at times about who her daddy was. He never asked and Andie never talked about him so he figured to leave it at that. Some things were fine left hanging in the air. Sometimes they just belonged there. He enjoyed her company and sharing all he knew about fishing and it was enough. He figured she enjoyed him just about as much because all he had to do was walk to his truck with his pole and bucket and she would come a-running. He had to admit, if she didn’t, he would purposefully bang the bucket around the truck bed a few times like a dinner bell.
So here they sat together on the old wooden dock, bobbers motionless in the water, swatting at mosquitoes. He thought to himself what an odd pair they must be; an old black man and little pig-tailed white girl with freckles. This wasn’t exactly the norm around these parts, but Charlie wasn’t one to question life in this way and Andie he knew well enough didn’t see color that way. They were just happy to be doing what they loved best.
“Charlie?” Andie asked.
“Teach me something new today,” she replied, scratching a mosquito bite.
He wiped his face and neck with his bandana and thought a moment.
“Yes, I guess yo’ right. We haven’t had our fishin’ lesson today, have we?” he chuckled.
“Alright. Since these fish ain’t hungry I suppose now’s a good time as any. Just be sure we don’t fo’get to keep an eye on those bobbers. You never can tell when a fish is gonna come along and take a bite,” he winked.
This made Andie squeeze herself and shift so she was facing the water beside Charlie’s chair.
Eyes fixed on the pair of lazy bobbers she declared, “Okay Charlie. I’m ready.”
He chuckled low in his chest and tugged on one of her pig tail making her giggle.
“Let’s see. Today we’ll talk about the quiet water.”
“Yes. See how the water is all still and quiet, like a mirror? That’s what I call ‘the quiet water’. Now, the quiet water is very special, Andie; like magic.”
Andie’s eyes grew wide and she tore her gaze away from the bobbers to look up at him.
“Magic?” she asked, filled with awe.
“Oh yes. Just watch.”
Charlie and Andie sat watching the water. After a few silent minutes passed a little fish broke the surface snatching a floating bug.
“See there?” Charlie exclaimed. “If the water hadn’t been quiet we wouldn’t have seen that little fish right there. We wouldn’t even knows he’s there or what he’s eatin’. So, like magic, when the water goes quiet it can tell us a lot.”
“That’s funny, Charlie,” Andie giggled. “Anything that’s quiet doesn’t say anything at all.”
“Well now, that’s the mystery, Andie. Quiet things can sometimes tell us mo’ than noisy things.”
Charlie paused to dip his pipe into a rumpled pouch he produced from his pocket and took his time packing the tobacco firmly into the bowl. He watched the child as she watched the bobbers. He knew she was chewing on what he’d said. He could almost hear the wheels turning in her head and it made him grin. Another little fish rippled the surface and Andie flinched.
“There’s another one!” she squealed, pointing.
Charlie chuckled again, “Yep. There’s another one. Just came like an idea out of nowhere, didn’t it?”
Andie turned her wide eyes to him again. He saw she was nibbling at his analogy and doing a much better job of it than those fish were at the corn-baited fishhooks.
“That’s like them artsy folk,” he continue while lighting the pipe. “Ever wonder how they get those ideas for they’s paintin’s or writin’s?” He didn’t wait for a reply. “It’s like if they’s mind wasn’t quiet water then those ideas wouldn’t never be seen. Just imagine this here pond if all the little fish decided to jump at the same time.”
“I would be like a sea storm!” Andie exclaimed. “Tidal waves!” she squealed and jumped up waving her arms around wildly. Charlie laughed.
“Sit down, youngun, or you’ll scare away all those fish.”
Andie complied, hugging her knees tightly to her chest, restraining herself.
“As I was sayin’,” Charlie puffed, “if all these fish were jumping at the same time, the water would be too rough to see any of them. We’d just be seein’ the waves and hearin’ the splashes. We might think there’s no fish here at all; just rough water. Just like folks and they’s ideas. If they’s mind is all rough with all kinds of ideas jumpin’ at the same time, they’d miss the good ones. So those artsy folk know the magic of the quiet water. See?”
“Mmhm. If you need to find an important thought in all those ideas swimmin’ around in yo’ head, Andie, you need to have quiet water.”
He paused to puff on his pipe and watch the bobbers.
“You mean make my mind like quiet water, right?” Andie asked.
“Yep. You’s a smart girl, you know that, Andie?”
She leaned her head against the arm of his chair and he patted her soft head.
“I wish my Mom thought so,” she sighed.
The words made Charlie’s heart ache and he hated it.
“Don’t you worry, child. Don’t you worry now. She knows you’s smart, she just don’t say it is all.”
He had to resist the urge to take the child onto his lap. He tugged her pig tail again instead.
“Just keep yo’ mind like quiet water, child. Everything you need’ll come like those little fish out there, one at a time so you can see ‘em. Just be the quiet water and watch.”
Andie sucked in a breath and caught him by surprise.
“I’m going to try it right now!”
She squinted in concentration and stared hard at the water. A good belly laugh seized Charlie up before he could catch it at the sight.
“Andie girl, you can’t force the water quiet by catchin’ all the fish first,” he grinned. “Just relax yo’self and be quiet.”
“Oh, I think I get it,” she nodded, and settled herself quietly on the dock again.
Some time passed. The mosquitoes buzzed. Charlie wiped his bald spot at least half a dozen times and was doing so again when Andie sprang to her feet.
“I did it! I did it!” she cried. “I was quiet water then I got an idea! I know why the fish aren’t biting!”
She raced down the dock onto the bank and began turning over rocks and sticks. Charlie watched her in amusement and chewed absently on the stem of his pipe. She crouched and pried a stubborn rock from the ground and turned it over. She began digging at something then sprung up with a grin.
“I got one!” she announced. “I got one! It’s a fat one too!”
She ran back down the dock waving her wriggling prize.
“The fish don’t want corn today. They want worms!” she cried waving the fat wet worm in Charlie’s face.
He let out a guffaw and clapped his hands.
“Girl, you done lost your mind,” he laughed.
Together they reeled their lines in and plucked the soggy corn kernels from the hooks. Charlie popped the worm into 2 pieces and they re-baited. Grinning at each other, they cast their lines again. The bobbers hit the water with a “plop, plop” and they sat to wait. A few tedious minutes passed when Andie’s bobber flinched in the water. Then it bounced. Andie squealed and grabbed her pole.
“Wait, now. Wait,” Charlie advised. “Be sure he takes it all the way under. We don’t want to lose him now.”
Andie stood still as a statue, her face a work of wonder and excitement. Her fingers were wrapped around the pole handle so tightly the knuckles were showing white but she didn’t move a muscle.
“Quiet water, quiet water,” she whispered to herself.
Suddenly as Sunday the little red and white bobber disappeared.
“Now, Andie! Now!” Charlie cried, sitting forward in his chair.
Andie gave a sharp tug and sang out in triumph when it was met with struggling resistance.
“I got ‘im!”
“Hold yo’ tip up! Don’t let him get away!” Charlie yelled.
Tongue caught in the corner of her mouth, Andie fought to reel the fish in. Her pole bent sharply but she didn’t relent. Her grip remained firm and determined.
“It’s a big one, Andie. Oh he’s a fine one.! It’s yo’ biggest one yet!” Charlie sang.
Finally, the little girl managed to haul the catfish up onto the dock, panting. Charlie grabbed it before it could flop back off and they both laughed.
“My, my. Would you look at that fish!” Charlie exclaimed. “He’s big enough fo’ both of us to have us a nice dinner tonight. Maybe yo’ momma, too.”
Andie swelled with her accomplishment. She gazed up at Charlie as if frozen in the shimmering buzzing summer swelter, her green eyes fixed on his. He watched the emotion moving behind them.
“I’m proud of you, Andie girl.”
The words were out before he realized he’d said them, but they were the truth. He was damn proud.
Suddenly the child flung herself at the old man and hugged him. It wasn’t just a hug with her arms. It was a hug from her whole being.
“I love you, Charlie,” she whispered.
He held her to him as the world distorted and swam through sudden tears and he uttered, “Quiet water, Andie girl. Quiet water.”