“It’s still alive!”
“Can’t be. It’s been in the fridge since yesterday. You’re imagining things.”
“It IS! It quivered when I threw it in the laundry sink.”
With Big Sister Superiority, I went to the mudroom to prove Jennifer wrong. Of course the fish wasn’t alive; Jennifer had caught it the day before and it had been in the fridge ever since, wrapped in a piece of waxed paper and shoved in between milk cartons, Hawaiian Punch, cans of Spam (yuck), jam, cheese (Brie for our parents, Swiss for me, cheddar for Jennifer, and individually wrapped American for one of our brothers), along with the numerous jars of condiments and exotic sauces that our father used for his internationally inspired gourmet dishes.
Whenever our father took us fishing in the evening, he drove us to the Lake, but we often walked by ourselves if we wanted to fish in the afternoon, and that’s what Jennifer had done the day before after school. Down the hill behind our house, along the narrow, winding path through our woods, past the Leighton’s tennis court, through the sumacs on the other side of the tennis court, along another path by the Preston’s house (we always hurried and watched out for their three German Shepherds in that area), down another neighbor’s long, paved driveway, then along Old Wagon Road till we got to the Lake’s driveway. Then down that long stretch, stepping around or leaping over potholes, stopping to pick black raspberries from the long briars reaching out to grab us from the woods, and of course hurrying as we went by the haunted house on the right. Finally we’d get to the Lake with its grassy area that wasn’t mowed often enough and its small sandy beach.
Given that this was a catfish, I’m guessing Jennifer had been fishing on the far side of the beach, not near the dock. That was the side with lots of water weeds and squishy stuff underfoot, where no one swam. That’s where Papa had caught Hoover, our pet catfish, who had wiggled between Papa’s toes as a tiny baby catfish. Papa had brought him home and he lived in a tank on our kitchen counter. By now he was several inches long and came to our hand when we tapped the glass or fed him freeze-dried worms or sneaked him bits of food we didn’t want. But this fish Jennifer had caught must have been Hoover’s great-grandfather, given his size.
Jennifer had the best luck when it came to fishing. She was the one who’d caught a five pound bass right off the end of the dock. She hadn’t even been able to pull it up from the water it was so heavy, so Papa had run over and scooped it up with a net. That fish was dinner for our whole family. This catfish wasn’t five pounds, but it was by far the biggest catfish I’d ever seen, far bigger than the decent-sized ones I’d caught and eaten.
Jennifer had managed to pull it out of the water by herself (that was easier to do when you could just slide it out along the squishy sand rather than lift it up from the water to the dock), but she hadn’t been able to get the hook out; it was thoroughly stuck through the side of the fish’s mouth. She headed home with her catch, but the fish was heavy and the day was hot, so after a while she ended up dragging it along behind her. By the time she got home she was tired and dinner was almost ready anyway, so she cut the fish line and wrapped the fish in a piece of waxed paper and stuck it in the fridge. Thankfully our mother was not too picky about what we stuck in the fridge, so the fish stayed there until Jennifer took it out to clean it the next day after school.
And now she was saying it was alive. Fat chance of that! I grabbed the cold, dusty fish and threw it back into the large laundry sink. It quivered! I threw it in again and it quivered more. Jennifer was right; the fish really was alive!
I fiddled with the hook in the fish’s mouth and got it out, then filled the sink with water and started moving the fish around as if he were swimming. I knew that fish had to move forward to make the water flow over their gills, so I figured if I kept it moving, maybe it would absorb some oxygen and revive. That would be pretty cool! After a few minutes the fish seemed to be quivering more intentionally, as if slowly coming back to life, and in a little while longer, it was clearly trying to swim!
There was no way we were going to eat this Granddaddy Catfish now. We put him in the wading pool on the terrace where he swam around for a couple of days, eating our offerings of worms and soggy dough balls (at least someone likes Pepperidge Farm white bread), until Papa could drive us to the Lake. Jennifer let the Catfish go on the squishy, weedy side, and I’m guessing his great-great-great grandchildren are still swimming in the Lake.
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