By Christine Grant
There are moments of opportunity that have to be taken or they slip through our fingers. Like water, they cannot be gathered up once spilt. A figure moves onto the narrow bridge between Silver Birch Lake and the creek, and I know that this is one of these moments.
He has his back to me and is looking towards the lake. Against the warm, evening light from the west, he is only a dark shape. But from his size, I know that it is Declan, the fishing instructor.
Crossing the stepping stones that we use as a shortcut to the main camp, I follow the path along the creek, past the shady pool where Declan takes his fishing class. When I’ve finished work, I often join them. After the heat and humidity in the kitchen, I like the quiet coolness of the creek. I’ve still not caught a fish, but I’m learning to quietly wait.
Declan is a big man in every sense of the word. This is his first summer in camp, but he is already well-known, and everyone wants to be his friend. He is usually surrounded by people. They hang on his soft Irish accent. Children are drawn to him like a magnet. Adults come looking for advice. He listens without passing judgement or trying to tell his own story. I’ve sat, day after day, waiting for that fish to bite and hoping for a moment of privacy, to lay open my hurts to him, but someone else always gets there first.
He leans against the bridge alone and, just as so many other people have done this summer, I see my opportunity to claim a morsel of Declan’s time and attention.
I pull out the band that holds my hair into a ponytail and let it fall around my shoulders. He is deep in thought. My tennis shoes make no noise on the bridge. He doesn’t realise I am there until my reflection joins his in the water. Perhaps he hopes that I will pass on without stopping to talk. I settle my hands on the rail, and his reflection flashes me a smile of greeting. I smile down into the water.
The surface of the lake is like a sheet of silk. It catches the fading blue sky and the blush of orange in the west where the sun is taking its leave for another day. The water, so smooth from a distance, is continually disturbed by the dance of an insect or a gentle breath of air. Our reflections, momentarily perfect, are broken and distorted by the tiny motions.
We stand silent, watching the sinking sun mirrored in the lake. The evening is full of little sounds: a bird gently calling as it settles down for the night, the hoarse cry of a frog, the gathering noise of the cicadas which will grow to fill the darkness with a warm, living presence. But it is not yet night. e are caught in a hoop of gentle light between two skies.
I wait until the sun has almost reached the tips of the trees on the horizon before crossing the narrow bridge and leaning against the railing on the opposite side, waiting. He remains with his back turned towards me, looking into the water. I am fizzing and bubbling with all the things I wanted to say in the fishing class, but kept to myself. There was always someone else who needed him: Becky from the office telling him about her divorce or John the groundsman talking about the cold winters when he is alone in the camp.
Declan turns towards me, his back to the sunset. My face is lit up by the evening sunlight, while his is in shadow. Usually I hide behind my shyness, but right now, I feel a need to reveal who I am and ask him who he is. I have so many questions: What about his vocation? How did he learn to have a big heart for all those who cross his path?
It is too late to make some banal comment about the beauty of the evening. We have already shared its silence. Although it’s hard to begin with deep words, shallow ones won’t do. I want to talk about hurt and rejection, loneliness and lack of love, but in the beauty of this moment, they seem to matter no more than the hard pebbles in the lakebed.
I feel a need to nestle my head against his chest and feel his arms around me. But if I try to have him for myself, will he be less than what he is meant to be?
Declan speaks first. “What I like most about fishing is the silence. That’s why I come here in the evenings, when I can.”
I am afraid to speak in case I disturb something perfect, like a breeze on the water turning a sharp image into twisted fragments. I voice my thoughts. “I don’t want to disturb the silence.”
“You’ve shared it. That’s what I like about fishing with you. You don’t scare the fish away by chattering too much. You know how to quietly wait.”
“I’ve been waiting all summer.”
“Ach, you’ll get that fish one day,” he smiles.
“And when I do, I’ll throw it back in.”
He laughs, and we both fall silent. Then he turns away, heading back to his cabin and his duties with the kids.
The lake is now as dark as the sky. All the things I wanted to say and didn’t wave across my mind like the ripples of insect feet on the water. However, I have given him what he needed; I have reflected the silence back to him.