Thursday, May 26, 2022

ocular violence

Editor's Note: Chad Wilde is a gifted writer and good friend. From time to time, I am fortunate to showcase his work here on The Connecticut Yankee. This is the second of a three-story series. Thanks for taking time to read it. 

At the theater, there is a marked feeling of anticipation.  Gatherings, and rustling.  Meeting one another, before the show, below the marquee with the light above glowing down to announce the attraction.  For us, the theater is the boat launch on the Housatonic River, and soon we’ll be seated for the show.  A pike float.

There, among our stretched lives, are moments that bond relationships.  These moments, our classics, are forged from our shared passions and our enactment of them together.  Our summa’s and alphas.  Our omegas.  And when the codas of our lives swim into focus and the sounds of the world hush to everything, we are left with nothing else to hear.  

We find our places, as Pogo engages the jet and the boat departs upriver from which we will begin the float.  We enter and take our places in the house.  And at the theater, we speak to one another.  

The early part of the drift is the gathering, the excitement and anticipation.  Discussions of the players in these events to come, the sheer drama of them.  We catch up, we don’t see each other often, and our chatter is warm.  We are excited.  

Me and Aaron, we aren’t exactly slouches, we’re not great either, but we pass the mustard, so Pogo has little actual guiding to do save the navigation of the boat.  This is finding your seat; and preparing for the performance to come there in the theater of our minds.  Getting comfortable.  

As the drift progresses, there comes less conversation, more anticipation, a heightened focus since it is going to happen.  A nice quiet, not uncomfortable.  And in the draining of sounds there, we kick back and luxuriate.  The only sound left, the subtle stroke of the oars through the water.  Here, we get ready for the show, we begin fishing with concentration.

And afterwards we maybe look to each-other, those who attended the same events, those in the know who have heard the same sounds, seen the same sights, and we may say: Did you see that?  Our classics.

We collectively lower voices, our breaths bated, as the lights flicker on and off.  And then the lights go down gently as the curtain waves from some bustling behind.  And there, in the calm quiet of it all, the curtains finally open and all murmurs hush.  The music begins.

And the setting is the very end of the Berkshires, the rolling green hills, the deep bends in the river as it cuts through southern New England.  The laydowns, old deadwood, the edges of weed beds, the slow motion of the current.  The clay banks, where small birds nest and flitter from, off across the fields below the hills.  It is a lovely stage, well set.  

Punching the pike fly up tight, a good cast.  Soft advice; rod tip in the water, from the director.  The tan fly sinks into the flow through a slow three-count and the show truly now begins.  The fly quarters out on the first strip, teases and curtsies.  The curtain, it begins to draw apart.

Three strips in and 18-inches deep the articulated fly takes a perceptible alteration of path following downstream just where the drop off falls to channel, it is still visible.  And it kicks as the strip is ready to pull again on my fingers, and the curtain is fully open.

The fly speaks its preamble.  I am femme-fatale, I am deathly pale in the tannic water.  I am the damsel, dancing.  I am distress.  Drunk athletic and loose of limb.  I am the dying baitfish, it says.  Come take me.

A classic.  One you can talk about years later.  The performance, itself.  Heading into a show, you know the players.  You know whose presence and action on the stage will set the memory.  And you wait for the climactic moment, the chaos of reveal.  The moment the antihero appears guns blazing and the fight kicks in.  John Fucking Wick and Jesse Fucking James.  Perfect choreographing of the dance.  The fly; retrieved and briefly figure-eighted below the gunwales.  

Plots, they never thin.  They only thicken.  And the more often the fly pulls from the water, into the back cast, and then shot out to the bank to repeat its shifting flow into the retrieve, the more this plot does thicken.  Each new spot we pull up on, this is the scene for the climax.  This is the place.  

The silence of the theater.  The hiss of the fly line, rhythmic through two back casts, and then the longer, sibilate sound of it shooting through the guides and perfectly tucked tight to the target, here an upstream blowdown.  All gnarled tree limbs and crags disappearing below the bourbon-colored water.  A perfect spot.  A perfect cast.

The director, from the rower’s seat, speaks quietly, saying, Nice.  The highest of compliments.  And the dance begins.  

Come take me, I am failing here, I am swimming but I tire.  See how I palpitate and quiver.  I turn tenderly, expose myself to you that follows: the antihero hidden.  The following star.  The fly is irresistible.  And it is now time.  That which we have come to see enters the stage.

A Northern Pike in perfect profile arching and engulfing the fly from behind, just as you prepped to take the next strip of the line, and when you are in best contact with the fly.  And you watch the moment of grace.  The ocular violence occurs before your widening eyes.  The show has begun.  The flash of its movement, when all that it is, its purpose revealed, is just mouth and teeth and eat.  That hit is like a drug, and addicts find addicts.  Imperceptibly, we all see the show go down.  We share.

Something has happened.  There it is.

This pike has taken the fly with an incredible urgency, and once taken it seems to pause in the mind’s eye.  It does pause there, ponderously.  All the world gone but this and you saw it all with your own two eyes.  Internally, a gasp choked back as you prepare for the drama.  

The fish turns, it moves back upriver to the blowdown from which we are drifting.  And your strip set hits perfect, this time, and the line goes ever so tight.  The rod tip leaves the water arching and bending to the opposing weight.  There it is, you say aloud, a rapt audience.  The fight is on.  

Then, the head shakes.  It makes desperate runs.  It is a brawling fight.  A remarkably long minute, if that.  It’s longer if you get a hot one.  You do what you can to land the fish.  It is apex hunting.  Big game hunting.  It doesn’t always work out.  There are sad classics after all.  The drama, the plot, is thick.

Every predator fish risen, is a great thing and to land them is electric.  And in that electricity, you can meld yourself to other people privy to the same surging current.  

The space between happy classic and sad classic is razor thin.  For all of us.  You are looking for it, that connection with a predator.  You all are.  You want the ocular violence so badly and you are so grateful when it comes.  This can weld steel between us, either way.  

It doesn’t happen every time, a great show.  But the activity of taking in the culture more than makes up for viewing a so-so production.  But not this time, this one is a classic.

Pogo has the net ready as the fish boils the surface and makes a run below the boat.  Leaning into its performance, you give but make the fish earn it.  Its tail sweeping it away below the visibility line.  Then, back to view, and spent.  On its side slightly, but always, you know, it is gathering its strength to run again.  The show has to end.  The net slides under and once contained, the fish kicks violently against its hold, all gnashing and swirling.  But beaten there.  

At those climax moments, when we sit on the edge of the seat and wait for the resolution, we are all indebted emotionally in this show.  Invested.  Years later, in our easy chairs, together we clink our glasses and toast to the true classics, we lean in towards each other and ask, “Do you remember that?”

Another show has run the course.  The boat’s comfortable silence is replaced by our applause and adulation for the performance.  With plyers, removing the hook from the corner jaw.  Holding it, the memory, in a standing acclimation as the flashbulb pops and it is preserved for memorialization.  

The hero bows.  Placated, and spent.  You hold its tail with a hand below to support its belly.  You hold it upstream until the languid sweep and kick of the fish tells it is strong enough to be taken away from you, for now.  And it slowly moves off from your hands, it dreamily disappears.  Back stage again, heading right back to the blowdown from whence it came.  And you swish your hands in the cool brown water.

Standing back up, in ovation, grinning, asking:

Did you see that?  At the curtains close.