'Angling' by Jolene McIlwain
She woke one morning—after a dream about her fisherman friend, Van, who’d died too young—with the sensation of a hook snagged on the inside of her cheek, close to her lip. Like a piece of fishing line attached from her drooped mouth to him, wherever he lingered now.
Her son didn’t catch it at first, and when she slurred, “Does my mouth look right,” he answered, “Yeah, you look fine mom.” But he also wrinkled his brows and turned his eyes to his father, saying, in a tone she rarely heard now that he was growing into a man, “Daaaad.”
Her husband worried she’d stroked. Her father had one, and her grandfather, grandmother, and three uncles. He called 911, promised he’d be right behind her, and before they lifted her into the ambulance, he kissed her good side.
The doctor assured, “It’s not a stroke. It’s temporary.”
“What about my eye?” She said. “It won’t stop crying.”
He marked, with a lopsided star, ‘excessive tearing’ on the list of symptoms he handed her. “Two weeks. You’ll be back to normal.”
But she knew what happened. Van had caught her again, just when she thought she’d been healed of him, and she peered out the window as her husband drove them back home along Route 5 and that winding flooded creek bed where she’d once talked too much and spooked the rainbow and brook trout, sending them into deeper runs.
Had Van used a dressed treble hook, meant to lure her with its flashy feathers, or a siwash, meant to leave her less damaged by his memory, or a jig hook to ensure the set?
She could see his smile, his eyes, almost touch his fingers again as he crimped five split shot to the line to weight it down.
After the two weeks her doctor promised, her face righted and Van’s face faded again, rippled back to blurs, caught deep in a back-cast, tangled in a tree she couldn’t find.