The Sea Series: Fishing rod

Words by Tim McGuire

Published on July 4, 2012


My little brother doesn’t like to put his head under the water. My cousins are trying to teach him to duck when the waves grow too tall. I watch them from the shore as they disappear under the briny surface, like fingers slipping down a throat. Only Josh doesn’t, and for a moment my brother bobs alone in the sea, shivering until the wave gathers him up and vomits him back to shore. Splashing around the shallows is his favourite part, and he takes his time paddling back out to the breakers to try again.

It took him a long time to get back in the water. That’s mum’s fuck up. She pulled us out of school and moved us into my uncle’s beach house while we grieved. I felt bad for Josh; there’s not much for an eight-year-old to do at the coast if he’s afraid to swim. One day, when mum was out, I made him watchJaws. She went ballistic when she found out but Josh really got into it. I think it helped him remember that there’s more to the ocean than what he’d seen of it lately. He was able to go swimming again after he’d watched it, anyway. It’s just this head-under-the-water stuff that’s got him spooked now.

A couple of gym-fit guys walk in front of me on their way to the water. I wriggle around on my towel a bit. I probably look like a fish down here, white skin clinging to a sharp rib cage. If I squirt the sunscreen onto my belly it will make a farting sound and the red hairs of my snail trail will get flattened beneath the cream. Even so, some girl will stop and talk to me this afternoon. It’s happened three out of the last four days. My cousins don’t get it. I don’t either, but I’m polite enough not to act weird about it like them. We’re close in age, my cousins and me, but the closeness stops there. We grew up in Brisbane but they didn’t. It’s school holidays now though, so mum’s family has populated the beach house. They think that we should have finished grieving by now and they don’t get why Josh won’t put his head under the water. They asked him and Josh looked at me for help but I don’t talk about that stuff in front of the cousins.

Dad wasn’t a sailor but he owned a fishing rod. I think it was a prize won at some trivia night and he never put it to use.  We would rediscover the rod every couple of years when we cleaned out the shed. Mum always tried to sneak it onto the ute to take to the dump, but dad would catch her and chase her around the yard with it yelling ‘You beauty!’ and flick her on the bum with the line. From then on I think mum only tried to throw it away so dad could catch her doing it.  I don’t know what she’ll do with it the next time we clean up the shed.

He never talked about his wishes, not even with her. We only knew what to do because he’d added it in as a clause in his will.  He was always pulling shit like that when he was healthy. He’d decide we all needed to learn Spanish and enroll us in classes, or he’d go out for breakfast and come home with a golden retriever. Dying was about the only predictable thing he ever did in his life.