Nymph of Appalachia by Laura Grant

“The nymph is a lie you tell the fish. The better you tie the lie, with feather and thread and hook, the quicker the bite.”  —Alma Reed, Nymph Fishing Skills

Pull yourself up, bright and thrashing, from the river. Pull yourself up by the hook. Stand in the river, in the stream, blood streaming from the slit in your mouth, but the hook, look, it’s out.

Be not fish but fisherman. Stand naked in the river. The stones that once grazed your belly are now beneath your feet. Curl your new fist around the reel. Cast your line. Breathe the air that comes crashing into your lungs, cold and raw and dry, so dry, not liquid that slides in and out, filtered through, but sharp air, sharp air.

Call up to some river god you heard about. A towering, upright thing that stood over you forever. Once.

Stand in the stream. Above the trees, the sky is all heat and white light, too bright for your two blue eyes. Blink and glance. Other forms rising, chasing up and out of the white and blue. Your fellow fish are men.

My father is a fisherman. He stands in the stream, and the arc of his cast is something to behold. Nothing else about him is graceful, save that turn of his shoulder and curt cut of his wrist. There, thigh deep in high creek, the clicking of his reel is death, a mortal meditation, a time bomb ticking.

No other sound but the sound of god grumbling in the distant waterfall.

My father is a fish of men, caught on a line invisible. Hooked by crooks, and intent on hooking me. 

So I am standing in the stream, flinging my father’s rod into the water, emptying his red tackle box, hooks and all. Polluting the water to turn down his will, to hold down his holy will. Under the water. Drown it dead.

I let him tell me not just how to fish, but who. Again and again, I threw back the ones that would displease him. Saved the good ones in a basket at my hip. Saved is a funny word. They were saved to be gutted, bloody and shaking on a rock.

I wore his words so long, colors that scared the fish away, and then I could not eat.

The gentleman’s occupation, standing proud in the stream. Whipping death into a frenzy. Dropping like fate, like flies, to ripple the calm. Snatching the hungry from the water. Snatching the breath from their gills.

I stood, feet planted in the side of the mountain, where the earth vomited up water and silt and blind fish. Thought that here, surely, I could reach into the stream, with the shock of cold water reddening and deadening my hands. Thought that here I could catch, not with my father’s rod, but with my bare hands all that I needed.

But it turns out they own the earth, they do, who knew? They own the rock and the river, and where the ground gives up the ghostly waters, cold as death, they own that too.

Laura Grant is a lawyer and writer. Like most elder millennials, she has held many job titles, including mother, photographer, burlesque emcee, private investigator, poker player, server, and pizza delivery driver. Her work is published or forthcoming in Flash Frog, Five Fleas, Weird Christmas, Collage, and The Downtown (a funky and now defunct ‘zine in Johnson City, TN). She lives in Maryland with a couple of gremlins.

1950s photo of a woman in a bathing suit underwater sitting on a hook beckoning to a fish
Bruce Mozert’s Underwater Photography
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