Saturday, May 2, 2009

Suckerfish: Johnson City 1969

When I went to Cherokee Elementary School--which was a county school, not a city one--sometimes I'd walk to a friend's house or part way home after classes were out. We lived more than a few miles from the school and I usually got a ride to and back, though sporadically we took the bus (I hated the bus). But along the road away from school there was a stream and in the stream there were always fish. The stream ran along the road like a ditch, in a way (though it was not a ditch), and there were "bridges" where streets or driveways intersected with the main road. I recall one mild winter I was walking home or maybe to Kyle's house or somewhere for some reason after school, and I stopped along the stream and there were the fish down in the clear water.
The fish were suckerfish and suckerfish were like slim carp that clung with their mouths to the sides of rocks or the smooth concrete abutments where the small bridges were. No one ate them that I knew of. But if you tried to reach in and grab them, they'd take off. Well, being a kid, a boy, I still felt that it was only a matter of quickness, or outsmarting them, to catch one, despite the many failures to do so before. So, I stopped, put my books down in the brown weeds along the road and bent over the stream.
The stream was deep--maybe three or four feet--at this bridge and there were three or four fat green-gray-black suckerfish clinging to the concrete. I studied them for a spell, took off my coat, rolled up my sleeve and put my hand in the water. I think, perhaps, that my idea was to go slow this time, that since quickness had not worked in the past, this time I'd slowly creep up on them and grab it. So, that water was very cold. My hand, arm went pretty numb as I reached into the wet, inching, inching closer to the clinging fish. And my plan was working. Those fish--none of them--made a move. I was excited. I reached further, getting my bunched sleeve wet, dipping my face closer to the surface. the cold was no trouble because I was so close to grabbing a live fish. And then . . . I struck.
And I grabbed it.
And I pulled it up.
And it was slimy and disgusting-feeling in my cold hand.
And the suckerfish did not move.
It was as if the fish were frozen. Or dead. Or playing a game with me. I was both excited and repulsed--and disappointed--as I held that grotesque dead-frozen fish in my hand. And it was the feeling of disappointment that won out over the others.
I mean, I had caught it. Held it. But, there was no challenge. It had been easy. It had not been fair. The fish was as good as dead and I had grabbed it and it smelled and felt horrible and now, what the heck should I do with it? I didn't think it was really dead, but was in suspension--like hibernation--due to the cold season. Still, what to do?
I tossed it back in the water and watched it--seemingly lifeless--float away with the current.
And even today it's hard for me to make anything out of the little event. I guess, as I said, it was the utter disappointment of it all. The desire to catch something--or, metaphorically, to possess it or to kill it--and it turned out to be only disgusting and pointless. Maybe that's why I still recall it.

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