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Cane Pole

Story by Claudia Smith (Read author interview) June 24, 2014

art by Shealyn Baumgarner

When I was nine years old my father took us to Red Hills Lake. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was pleasant. Because I was the girl, I got the cane pole. There was a lot made about that, about how my brother got the special one, but the truth was I didn’t care that much. I had a book to read, Anne of Avonlea. We cleaned a bass for our supper; it wasn’t really enough, but it was good, with the lemon. At night my brother and I slept in our own tent, listening for the owls.

I’d like to take my daughter fishing, but not there, not with my father, not on their land with their catfish at the bottom of the cold pond. I would. I wish. I wish I could. That’s the thing about growing up in a house where people can fuck with who they like, do what they want, and nobody says anything. They just wake up the next day and make banana pancakes. You can start to think it’s over, or just not part of regular life, and you can ignore it. But my mother was wrong, you can’t make the crazy go away with banana pancakes.

I liked camping when it was all of us, and I would wake up to the smell of instant coffee on the Bunsen burner. My mother put eggshells on the bottom of the mugs to keep the grounds down. She remembered to bring plenty of Spam in case we didn’t catch enough fish.

It would seem we were happy, but then he pulled down his pants and shat under the lantern pole, my mother pretending he wasn’t there. He stuck his hand beneath her shirt and fiddled her breasts (that’s what he called it), looking over at me. It was like that, in the woods, where the other campers were out of sight although we could hear them. It was like he could do anything as long as we just watched it like we were watching a movie. After he pooped, she cleaned it up and my brother and I did Mad Libs in the car on the way to burgers the next town over, then came back before sunset to get settled.

Now, it’s almost April in the neighborhood park in another state many miles and years away from Red Hills Lake, 1979. My daughter runs, almost falls, catching herself on the slight slope of the field. This morning I put a dress over her yellow pants but this doesn’t get in her way. She runs so fast. I give her dandelion puffs to blow. She calls them bubble flowers. When I blow them for her she laughs until she falls down, says, “faster, faster, faster!”

I used to imagine them casting that fishing rod, and the hook catching me in the eye. I couldn’t get it out of my head, the hook, the way it might stick into my eyeball. That time at Red Hills Lake, the one time I can remember without my mother, I caught the biggest fish in spite of my cane pole, and threw him back without telling.

About the Author

Claudia Smith‘s stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton’s The New Sudden Fiction and So New Media’s Consumed: Women on Excess. Her flash fiction collections, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts (reprinted in the book), A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness and Put Your Head In My Lap are available from Rose Metal Press and Future Tense books, respectively. Her new collection of stories, Quarry Light, is now available from Magic Helicopter Press.

About the Artist

Shealyn Baumgarner lives in Connecticut and works as the Head Artwork Editor for a print magazine called Amalgamations. She’s an amazing and usually a pretty crazy person. However, Shealyn can be calm and serious when needed.


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