Dad Music: River

Waiting for that boy to come for his weekly visit to me: the old family friend bloke. We both need the river today. Me, cause I’ve had enough of all this starting the new work year and having to sort days and times and rooms and zooms. So needing to get out of here. Thinking, as always, that I don’t belong in this world.

It’s different for him: he belongs with the river cause he’s still a boy. And here he comes: my dog barking for joy. He runs at her. She jumps on him and licks him to death.

While we stuff a bag with fishing gear, I’m trying not to talk about my life-long joke: that I’m never able to catch fish. Well, I did twice, but that was with Dad—somehow making it all happen as was his way.

Loading the dog in the seat with the boy, we go for a drive to see what we can find. Something at least, I pray. I’m sure I’ll get what an old man needs but this young fella wants to catch something sharp, slimy and a bit scary.

We gets to the jetty and it’s free of people.

‘Park right across the entrance,’ he says, ‘so no one else can get in.’

‘We can’t do that, mate.’

‘Why not?’

‘We would have to at least let them share it with us.’

This liquid, watery thing is so smooth and cool and caramel—sliding into a mouth somewhere it seems to me. This is where I belong: with this stream: her silence, secrets and lazy contempt for what’s going past on the bridge up there.

Gathering our gear, I ferry it all from the boot to the jetty, which the boy can’t get enough of: a concrete slab that’s a great wobble board, which the boy has set a-wobbling and has the dog concerned. What’s with this solid rock that sways and rolls?

‘If you keep doing that,’ I say, without looking, ‘things will start falling into the river.’

‘What if the dog fell in? She might be good bait.’

‘If something falls in we will be going home—no more fishing.’

‘Okay.’

So, we settle in to the tying of knots and setting of hooks and lines. The boy drops the yabby net in and I get to throw a line in myself. My life long joke is happening, but hey, this watery old place gets me and I’m waking up, warming up and breathing.

And now the dreaming starts. Like the time Dad bought a dinghy. Me and the brothers are home from school holidays. We do the long hot drive to Bre and now we’re in the little boat on that easy brown flow of rippling sun.

I sense that Dad’s gone to a lot of trouble to arrange this: probably even dodging bank repayments and letting a bit of debt blowout, just for all of us to have some fun. He’s smiling like he can’t help himself: a boy again with his boys.

Uh oh! The motor’s cut out and we’re adrift. Without thinking, I stand up and inform Dad that I’ll swim to shore with a line. Great idea! As I dive in, looking down on Dad and my brother—back there with the motor—she upends and capsizes.

That’s the end of that: literally: a fishing trip that never has another chance and neither does Dad—from me anyway. Wasn’t even his fault, but my embarrassed seventeen-year-old pride wasn’t going there.

Would be so nice if Dad was here with us right now. The boy would love him that’s for sure—the two of them would be in heaven.

‘Hey!’ the boy shouts. A turtle! It’s a turtle! Look!’

‘Okay,’ I say, focussed on this bloody knot I’m tying.

And there they all are: two yabbies, a big old turtle and the dog sniffing from a distance: more interested in the chunk of beef-bait than anything. The turtle finds its way back home, the yabbies are bait and baited. The yabby net goes back in, we cast our lines and I’m dreaming again.

Home from Uni this time. It’s another hot summer at Bre: building a river hut with Dad. We set a springer-line on a big slow-moving bend for overnight. Next morning we’ve got ourselves the best ever thirteen pound Murray Cod breakfast you could wish for. Never had a fish so delicious or a father and son moment like it. That moment and this moment here on the jetty, with the boy and the dog, merge: my life-long joke feeling more like a life-long joy.