BEACH BLITZ VI
The day before the last Beach Blitz fishing trip, we practice-casted our donated surf rods on the children’s ward lawn. Beach Blitz was a tradition that would end when Mid-State Psychiatric closed in the winter and we were shipped to group and foster homes, or other hospitals not yet condemned by the feds. Jeffers, our favorite healthcare tech, sat on the cracked stoop yelling pointers when not laughing or supping his Styrofoam black coffee.
“See that blade of grass yonder with a cricket on its stalk?” Royce said. “I’m gonna hit it.”
Royce whipped his rod. The line whizzed and the Egyptian pyramid sinker smacked the cricket’s dome.
“Good’un,” Jeffers said.
“Dude’s dead,” Royce said. “Your turn.”
I pretended my rod was a catapult. I’d seen the filmstrip in Hospital School about trench warfare and catapults launching grenades across enemy lines. We watched the filmstrip after reading the best book ever, All Quiet on The Western Front. Hospital School would’ve been better if we’d always read war books and watched the filmstrips afterward, or if classes weren’t held in the basement cafeteria where teachers talked over clattering pots and pans.
“Dang,” Royce said. “You slow.”
“I’m loading up,” I said, and checked my Trilene knot and Egyptian pyramid sinker. Jeffers taught us fishing knots out of a falling-apart book his father gave him. The book sat on the day room shelf with half its pages missing and the cover stained with state grape juice.
“Fire in the hole!” Royce said.
I flung hard, but the Egyptian pyramid sinker snapped off the line sideways into Jeffers’ head. He dropped his coffee, groaned, and held his forehead. A brown stream leaked from the stoop and his Styrofoam cup rolled in the grass.
“You blinded Jeffers!” Royce said.
I really thought I’d blinded him. I’d heard of fishing accidents where lures popped back into the caster’s eyes and doctors filled the socket with glass.
“It’s okay,” Jeffers said, and laughed, and then Royce and me were laughing too. Jeffers rubbed his forehead and asked us to follow him upstairs to the nurse’s station.
“Mrs. French will patch you up,” Royce said.
“Need more than that,” Jeffers said.
The welt was a humongous red bulb.
“Mrs. French will do you right,” Royce said.
I could tell Royce enjoyed looking after Jeffers, since Jeffers usually looked after us.
“Let’s go,” Royce said, opening the door for Jeffers and me, then screaming up the stairwell for Mrs. French.
We never made Beach Blitz VI, so Beach Blitz V, which was before my commitment, was the last Beach Blitz. The hospital canceled the trip due to lack of funds.
“It’s my fault,” I told Jeffers and Royce the next morning in the day room.
We sat with the rest of the boys, all of us dressed to go on a canceled fishing trip at five a.m. Jeffers’ forehead was patched.
“Huh?” Jeffers said.
“It ain’t your fault,” Royce said.
“He’s right,” Jeffers said. “Funding issues.”
The other boys agreed. “It ain’t your fault,” they sang, like a chorus, and Royce turned to a Saturday morning fishing show.
“This one’s my favorite,” he said. “Dude knows all the spots and holes.”
I pulled the falling-apart book from the shelf and read the back cover. The author was a Scoutmaster. He’d dedicated the book to his scouts and ended with a verse from Matthew—Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
“What are you doing?” Jeffers asked.
I tried to read the verse aloud, but my voice cracked at “follow me—” and the rest of the pages fell to the roach-powered floor.
“It ain’t your fault,” the chorus sang.
I picked up the pages and imagined a beach or pond where my casts never missed their mark.
Michael Fischer’s work has appeared in several national print and online journals, and his most recent work is forthcoming in Phoebe and Natural Bridge.