Fish Fry

By Sara Truuvert

The first time Carter killed an animal, he was nine years old and wearing red flannel pajamas.

It was a cool day in August, and the sky was spread thick with clouds. Carter trotted down from the cabin to splash through the shallows of the grey-tinged lake. He was looking for the bits of hotdog he had scattered last night for Snapper, who liked to visit in the dark.

His father snuck behind him and clapped his big hands next to Carter’s ear. Carter jumped.

“Looks like Snapper’s been here,” his father laughed. He clapped his hands again. “Snap, snap.”

“Snap, snap,” said Carter.

His father squinted at the sky. “It’s a good day for it, buddy.” He pointed at Carter. “Solo catch. One little guy. One big fish fry.”

So Carter, clutching the stiff foam of his fishing rod handle, bounced on his seat in the motorboat as his father sped them to their fishing spot. The boat vibrated under him, making his teeth feel soft.

As they neared the spot, a quiet bay full of fallen trees and green reeds, his father lowered the motor to a purr and let the boat drift. He took Carter’s rod and skewered a worm on the hook. He folded the worm over twice. It pulsed.

He handed the rod back to Carter and wiped his hands on his shorts. “Bring us dinner, buddy.”

Carter flipped the catch on his rod and, with a flick, swung the worm a few feet from the boat. He let it sink for one, two, three, four Mississippi.

They waited. A single horsefly whipped dizzying laps around their heads. The warm smell of raspberry leaves floated down from the bank.

His father sang softly,

“You don’t have to pay the usual admission,

If you’re a cook, a waiter, or a good musician.”

Carter’s line drifted away from the boat. He straightened, watching.

“So if you happen to be just passin’ by,

Stop in at the Saturday night fish fry.”

The line snapped taut, and Carter felt his fists contract around the rod.

His father whooped. “Bring him home!”

Carter braced the base of the rod on his stomach and wound the reel.

The fish fought. With a thin whizzing sound, Carter’s line unraveled from its spool as the fish retreated from the boat. Carter looked up at his father. “You do it, please.”

“Uh-uh, not this time, buddy.” His father shook his head. “Slow and steady. Tire him out.”

The line lurched back and forth, slicing through the smooth water. The tip of the rod bobbed like a pigeon pecking seeds. Carter’s arms shook as he struggled to crank the reel.

“Am I hurting him?” Carter gasped, as the line gave a sharp jerk to the left.

“Worst part’s almost over.”

Carter wound and wound the reel and, slowly, the line drew closer.

"Don’t worry, buddy. We’ll treat this guy nice.”

Twisting and glittering, the fish burst from the water. Carter’s father swung their net underneath it and lowered it to the bottom of the boat. Carter watched it flap with dull thumps.

“Ladies and gentlemen, he’s done it,” his father bellowed. “One fish fry, coming right up!”

Carter filled their stained plastic bucket with water while his father twisted the hook from the fish’s lip. His father could barely wrap his hands around the girth of the fish as he placed it, wriggling, in the bucket. The worm was gone.

Back at their cabin, Carter hauled the bucket onto the dock. The fish swam in frantic circles, spattering the planks with dark patches.

“All right, buddy.” His father was beside him. He held out a block of wood. “Like I showed you last summer. One good thump.”

Carter took the block of wood. It was smooth and heavy. He watched his father wrestle the fish out of the bucket and onto the dock. His father slid his hands down the fish’s body, exposing the top of its head.

“One good thump, buddy. It’s fish fry time.”

The fish’s gills flapped rapidly. Carter knelt beside it and lowered the block so that it touched the top of the fish’s head. Its eyes were shiny and black. They reflected everything.

Carter stood up. “Tomorrow?” he asked. “Fish fry for breakfast?”

“One good thump. You won’t hurt him.”

“I’ll be ready tomorrow. I promise.” Carter felt the block sliding as his palms sweated.

His father sighed. “Hold him here.”

Carter pinned the fish to the dock as his father reached into the boat. He pulled out a long chain with a large clip at the end. “He’ll be safe in the lake overnight. Okay, buddy?”

Carter nodded. His father slid the clip into the fish’s mouth and out its gills. He closed the clip and lowered the fish into the lake. The fish thrashed, making the chain clink.

“Tie him up.”

Carter fastened the chain to a metal rung on the corner of the dock. He peered into the water. The fish swam in quick, tight circles.

“Breakfast,” he said, and his father nodded. The fish turned another little circle.

They ate spaghetti for dinner.

The next morning, Carter, in his red flannel pajamas, scurried down to the dock. The sun had just begun to burn the mist off of the lake. “Fish fry,” he whispered. He knelt by the rung and pulled on the chain.

Up came wet white pulp dripping from a delicate skeleton. His fish was dead, shredded. Its head was still intact with the clip stuck through the gills. Its eyes were dull. Its mouth opened in a silent moan.

He hadn’t left any hotdogs in the shallows last night. Snapper had eaten his fish. It must have been a feast. He pictured his fish, slippery and muscular, writhing in place as the turtle ripped into its belly.

Carter’s father was walking down to the dock.

“So if you happen to be just passin’ by,

Stop in at the Saturday night fish fry.”


Note: “Saturday Night Fish Fry” lyrics written by Louis Jordan and Ellis Lawrence Walsh, 1949

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