Nine year-old Justin felt the warm rays of the sun wrap around and embrace his body. Relaxing. The gentle rocking of Grandpa’s little john-boat, enhanced by the quiet lapping of ripples against the hull was hypnotic. The lad understood his grandfather’s silence—welcomed it. Former apprehension over tomorrow’s big test at school had dissipated from his oval, tanned face. Sandy hair, tousled by the breeze strayed in every direction.
Grandpa grinned as he took in the sight of his grandson manning the fore-bench of the small craft. The slightly turned up little nose and speckled cheeks accentuated the comfort painted on Justin’s face. Their micro-ship responded with a slight jerk at Grandpa’s cast. The boy watched, as in slow motion the huge worm unfurled to full length while flying through the air, landing silently in the water, followed by the double, “Plop, Plop” of the weighted sinker, then the bobber.
The bright red, bouncing float emitted circular mini-waves by its impact, holding the boy’s gaze in fascination. Off each ripple, the sun winked a smidgen of its brilliant light.
“Justin. Justin! Would you care to join the rest of the class? Perhaps you’d like to share your daydream with the rest of us?”
Swiveling his attention from the window to the chalk-board, “Oh. Sorry Mrs. Macready… I’m listening.”
Teacher continued. “Amphibious creatures are distinguished by…”
Instantly back at the lake, Justin jerked in his desk-seat almost imperceptibly. The tranquil scene had erupted into excitement as the fishing-float plunged beneath the surface. Grandpa’s pole jerked hard, bowing the tip to double the rod.
“A big one! It hit like a… well… we’ll see.” Grandpa sputtered energetically, as he began cranking the reel. Justin’s breath caught in his chest with the anticipation. A glance at Grandpa’s face revealed a crinkled brow. A little too serious. Was it concern? His command too, carried the tone. “Get the dip-net!” Had Grandpa hooked some sort of lake-monster?
The water’s surface exploded abruptly with violent splashing as the giant fish thrashed about, struggling to escape, then submerged again.
“Didja see em Justin? He’s a whopper alright!” With trembling fingers the lad grasped the pole handle of the net in preparation. Grandpa was locked in mortal combat with this creature of the deep. The ten-minute struggle seemed much longer.
When again the monster broke the surface, Justin was ready, plunging the net beneath the fish as Grandpa had taught him. Arching upward with all the strength he could muster, the weight was too much to hold. But Grandpa was quick to drop the fishing pole and assist in hauling the beast over the side of the boat. The giant pike’s frantic flopping beat on the boat’s thin aluminum hull like a loud drum.
Finally spent, it lay gaping its mouth open and closed, extending it gills in frantic search of oxygenated water. Now a sadness enveloped the lad’s soul. Here was this beautiful, majestic creature, suffering, dying. Grandpa read his grandson’s expression well.
“It’s the way of things Justin. A part of the cycle of life. Death comes to all creatures eventually.”
When Alicia fell out of her seat, it jolted Justin back to the present. Lying on her back, the pretty young girl’s face was turning blue. The entire class was on their feet surrounding and looking down at Alicia. Her lips puckered, opening and closing, just like the big pike had done.
Reacting quickly, Justin shouted, “Fish out of water!” Which was completely lost on the teacher and other students. Purposefully, he rummaged around in Alicia’s backpack, until his hand found what he sought, withdrawing an asthma inhaler.
Raising and supporting her torso, Justin held the inhaler to the girl’s mouth, which she desperately accepted. And then pumped the medicine into her lungs. It took only a few moments for the attack to subside, but a little longer for the class to resume their former aplomb.
Mrs. Macready queried the hero of the day. “How did you know she had an inhaler in her backpack?”
“She showed it to me last week, during recess.”
“But how did you know it was an asthma attack?”
“Well… She looked just like a fish my Grandpa caught, gasping for air. I learn a lot of things when I’m not at school. My daydreams help me remember them!
When Justin looked over at Alicia, the flirtatious smile she spent on her hero, melted him in his seat.
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