by E.E. Whiting
The old man had a talent, that’s for sure. Somehow, over many years and with the patience of Job, he’d taught himself to catch flies with his bare hands. Like an old, gnarled Ninja warrior, he would sit vigilant until the unsuspecting winged annoyance at the picnic landed within reach. Imperceptible his large paw would cup itself behind the creature as it rubbed its head and prodded the tablecloth for a share of the meal. Rapt by the silent attack, everyone would freeze, forks poised, to await the outcome. Snap! The fist would close and, be damned, most of the time he caught it.
“The key,” he’d intone patiently to everyone each and every time, “is to come up from behind. They don’t see you coming.”
That was the unfailing lesson of the day. It was one of many words to the wise that he would impart consistently and persistently, in between complaints about his medication, his doctors, and especially the fools in Congress.
The routine in summer beyond the fly catching feat was the inspection of the “back 40.” His son and he would make the rounds of the cottage, meticulously checking the deck, the dock, the stone walls. Each stop was deliberate, a concerted effort to assess the situation, approve the proffered remedy, and move on. Anything needing the ministrations of a third party elicited another bit of wisdom, learned the hard way. “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.”
These expeditions culminated at the dock, usually at dusk, where the canvas chairs were arranged for the perfect view of the water as the silver glints of the sun warmed to bronze and then to gold.
Watching from the porch, she would study the pair and imagine the conversation. What discussion caused the arm to fly up in emphasis? What point required the punctuation of the finger jab? But eventually gesticulation would cease and stillness would signal a change in purpose. Twin guardians of the gates, they would sit, listing slightly to port, heads tilted in the same attitude of contemplation, “just resting their eyes.” Each exhalation would softly growl from mouths parted as though contemplation had come in mid-sentence.
Then, slowly approaching down the lawn on silent bare feet, she would come up from behind, so they would not see. Having caught them thus, she would return, confident of their vigilance, to the kitchen. From another part of the cottage, the disembodied voice of a child disengaged from earbuds long enough to be hungry would call: “Is it time to start the grill? Where’s Dad?”
“Down on the dock with Grampa, catching flies.”
E.E. Whiting, one of the reviewers of U.S. 1’s Summer Fiction submissions, is a frequent contributor to U.S. 1.