Tight Lines by Sam W. Pisciotta

The fly rolls back off the tip of the rod, wisping overhead. I pull the cast forward, and the line shoots above the water. My technique is unpracticed, my hand heavy, and the recoil tangles the line.

I glance toward my father standing on the bank, hoping he hasn’t noticed my building frustration. I strip the line through the slow current flowing around me to retrieve the caddis fly.

Father huffs a laugh. “You were like this as a kid. So impatient.”

He’s right, but he always set a high bar. It was hard to do anything as well as the old man. He’s holding a ham sandwich in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. This is how I remember him best. Before the doctors and chemo. Before the goodbyes.

He smiles and nods toward the flyrod. “Try again.”

I pull the line off the water, drawing my hand up and back.

“Let the rod load,” he says. “Be patient.”

The rod tip strains with the line extending behind me.

“Now,” he shouts, and at the command, I snap the flyrod forward to accelerate the line, but my hand stops too soon, stalling the motion. The fly bangs against the rod before it can rush past. Leader, tippet, fly—all drop on top of me. I want to toss the damn thing into the stream. “I can’t do it.” And now I don’t care if he sees my irritation.

“Keep trying,” he says. “That fish isn’t going anywhere. When you’re ready, you’ll catch it.”

I take a deep breath and let my frustration burst out. “I feel like a kid again.”

“Hotshot scientist.” Dad teases me. “You’ll need to be a hell of a lot more patient if you’re going to learn the secrets of the universe from the …. How do you say it?”

“The Gardeners.”

Dad lifts the beer bottle towards his lips but pauses, his expression puzzled.

“It’s a play on words,” I say and uncoil the line to cast again. “TS-b orbits the star we call Teegarden, so….”

“Ah, the Gardeners. Good as anything, I guess.” He lifts the bottle into a toast. “To persistence.”

The fly rolls back off the tip of the rod, wisping overhead. I pull the cast forward, and the line shoots above the water. The caddis fly drops an instant before the leader falls.

“Nice! You’re so close.” I look up to see Dad grinning.

I smile back, proud of my cast; from my rod’s tip right to the fly, the line stretches straight and taut.

“Lighten your hold on the rod and let your eyes follow the line all the way out. What do you see?”

“The fly’s just a metaphor,” I say.

“Now you’re getting it.”

“Then where am I?”

“Son. You’re clearly standing in a stream.”

“But this really isn’t a stream. Right?”

“Correct.” He takes another bite of his sandwich.

“So…where am I?”

His shoulders shrug. “You’re standing in a stream.”

The water roils just ahead of my fly—a trout rising. I jolt my hand back, and the fly slings toward me, nearly striking my face.

“You tried to set the hook too soon.”

“I know,” I say, shoulders slumping.

“You knew this wasn’t going to be easy. You’ll get it.”

I shrug, not feeling as certain anymore. This stream’s dark water feels colder now. Somehow overwhelming.

Dad turns his eyes toward the sky. “I can tell you one thing with certainty. The stars are worth it.”

The fly rolls back off the tip of the rod, wisping overhead. I pull the cast forward, and the line shoots above the water. The caddis settles onto the surface.

Dad’s voice is calm, but he’s excited. “There’s a tension holding that fly onto the surface. It’s strong, but it’s malleable,” he says. “Can you feel it? And the current around you?”

I nod. “That’s the dark energy, right?”

“It’s not something you can see by looking at it directly, but you can’t control it until you see it. That’s the paradox.”

Being with him is like teetering on the edge of a precipice. My mind tumbles and falls, reaching for a hold, grasping for a thing that’s defined by what it’s not.

“We could give you pages of equations, but you wouldn’t understand enough to make use of them.” Dad stands and motions across the water. “Dark energy propulsion requires you to comprehend at a deep level. The concept has to come before the numbers.”

The water roils in front of the fly, and I gasp.

The trout strikes. Hard. I set the hook, and the fish runs toward the bottom. My rod curves, arching and pulling with the strain.

“Whoa! Can you feel it?”

I can feel it, and it’s like a door opening onto daylight. Dad steps into the water and stands beside me. He explains the motions shifting around us, the forces pulling away, and the bonds that resist breaking. And somehow, I know the truth of it.

The fish cuts through the water in long curves. Time and space warp and weave, opening onto other worlds.

I close my eyes and listen to the gentle timbre of my father’s voice—the patience and love. For a moment, I’m with him again. And who’s to say I’m not? “Let the rod do the work,” he says. “Just relax into the stream.” He places his hand on my shoulder, and I know he’s there for me—for us. “The stars aren’t going anywhere,” he says. “They’ll be there when you’re ready.”

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